MERRITT - To say Taylor Ward had a career night in Merritt Friday may be an understatement. Ward scored a pair of goals and finished with three points in the Penticton Vees 6-2 win over the Merritt Centennials at Nicola Valley Memorial Arena.
Ward, who had three points coming into Friday’s game, Jan. 15, matched his season output in the win and 16-year-old call-up Liam Lytton had a pair of assists. Dante Fabbro, Scott Conway, Easton Brodzinski and Dixon Bowen also scored for the Vees.
Zach Driscoll picked up his 14th win of the season and third against the Cents’, stopping 29 of 31 shots.
Despite the decisive victory, it was the Centennials who opened up the scoring in the first. After a turnover in the neutral zone, the Cents’ came in on an odd-man rush and Colin Grannary found Mitch Lipon with a cross-ice pass at 3:46.
The Vees were quick to respond and the equalizer came from an unlikely source. Ward was first to the puck behind the Cents’, before wheeling out front and squeezing a shot underneath the goalie’s arm at 5:39; Ward’s third tying it up at one.
The game remained deadlocked at ones until the opening moments of the second when Fabbro took matters into his own hands. On the opening shift of the frame, the Vees defenseman, with a head full of steam, skated down the middle from his own side of centre and wired a shot over Colten Lancaster’s blocker; his 10th coming 25-seconds in.
Conway added to the Vees lead six-minutes in and he was helped out by the young guys. Lytton came down the left-wing and fired a rink-wide pass over to Conway. From the right-circle, Conway quickly went upstairs for his 42nd at 6:17; Ward picked up the secondary assist on the play.
Merritt made it a one-goal game again midway through the middle stanza. After the puck was turned over in the neutral zone, Zak Bowles took a drop pass and beat Driscoll from the left-circle at 11:23; Bowles scoring on the Cents’ first shot of the second.
Like the first Cents’ goal, the Vees had a quick answer for the Cents’ second. Two-minutes after Bowles made it 3-2 Brodzinski restored the Vees two-goal cushion. On a two-on-one rush, Brodzinski kept the puck and the decision paid off as he beat the goalie on the near-side from the left-wing at 13:44; his 23rd making it 4-2 after forty-minutes.
Penticton added two more goals late in the third to salt the game away. First, Bowen forced a turnover at his own blue-line, and with an empty net at the other end of the ice, he fired a backhand down the rink and into cage 18:56; Bowen’s first goal since October 30th. Then, inside the final minute, Ward grabbed a loose puck in the crease and went upstairs for his second of the game at 19:43.
Final Score: 6-2 Vees
Power-Plays: Vees 0-3 Merritt 0-4
Three Stars (Radio Broadcast) 1) Taylor Ward 2) Liam Lytton 3) Colton Poolman
After scoring one goal in his first 37 games, Ward has now scored three in his last five. The Vees are now 5-0 against the Cents’ this season and have won seven straight against Merritt going back to last season; they’re 22-4 against the Interior.
Penticton (36-5-1-0) is back home tomorrow night, looking to sweep their three-game schedule this week, when they host the Powell River Kings at the SOEC; puck drop is 6pm; the Kings beat the Surrey Eagles 5-4 Friday. Fans can get their tickets at the Valley First box office (at the SOEC), or online at www.valleyfirsttix.com.