Cents rally to buck Spruce Kings

 The Merritt Centennials got tired of being the Prince George Spruce Kings’ punching bags.

They socked it to the Kings Saturday night in the BCHL pod in Chilliwack, rallying with four goals in the third period to trump the Kings 6-5.

Colton Phillips-Watts made 46 saves for his first career BCHL win. He was at his best in the third period, blocking 22 of 24 Prince George shots as they tried in vain for the equalizer.

Prince George native Alex Ochitwa had the first multipoint game of his rookie BCHL season, scoring two goals, and Walker Erickson also fired a pair. Ben Ward picked up a goal and three assists to boost the Cents to their first win in eight games against the Spruce Kings this season.

Merritt (3-13-0-0-0) ended an eight-game losing streak and stopped the streaking Kings, who showed up at Chilliwack Coliseum looking for their seventh straight win. The Cents came into the game having been outscored by Prince George a combined 35-9 in the previous seven games.

In an eventful third period that featured six goals in the first eight minutes and started with a shorthanded penalty shot, the Cents’ four-goal explosion put them ahead of the Kings 6-4.

The Cents had two players in the penalty box to start the period but Ward pressured puck-carrier Mason Waite just inside the Merritt zone and took off on a breakaway. Kings goalie Jordan Fairlie got his leg out to block the shot but Ward was awarded the penalty shot, which was stopped by Fairlie’s blocker with 17 seconds gone in the period.

The Kings made their two-man advantage work for them and Simon Labelle potted a rebound while standing just off the right post. But their 3-2 lead did not last long. Ochitwa was set up for a shot from just outside Fairlie’s crease for his second goal of the game, 3:26 into the third, and about a minute later Cents forward Trevor Isaksson batted in a pass from Prince George native Blake Astorino to give the Cents their first lead of the night.

John Herrington scored unassisted with a shot from the face-off circle to tie it 4-4 at 6:29, but Erickson needed just 71 more seconds to score both his goals. He chipped in a behind-the-net feed from Ward and 20 seconds later cashed in a 2-on-1 chance with a wrister into the top corner.

Rowan Miller got to his own rebound after a shot block to put the Kings within a goal at 11:54 but that’s a close as it got. They kept the puck in the Merritt end for the final two minutes with Fairlie on the bench and mustered a handful of quality shots but Phillips-Watts was there to make the saves.

The Kings scored first. Christian Buono took off on a shorthanded breakaway and made it count, scoring his team-leading 11th goal of the pod season, with just five seconds left in Connor Elliott’s roughing penalty. The Kings now have eight shorthanded goals in 16 games. Ochitwa tied it on the Cents’ next power play. The 18-year-old Prince George minor hockey product, who put up 54 points in 30 games last season for the Cariboo Cougars U18 triple-A team, launched a backhander from the slot that got through Fairlie’s armour.

The Kings owned the puck in the second period, building a 12-1 shot advantage at one point. Pointman Amran Bhabra collected his first career BCHL goal in 63 games to give the Kings a 3-2 lead, scoring on a long wrister that sailed through a screen under the arm of Phillips-Watts with 10 minutes gone in the second. But late in the period, Ward knotted it 2-2 with a move through the slot to beat Zach Gabruch, setting up a close-range shot that beat Fairlie.

Prince George remains first in the three-team Chilliwack pod, three points ahead of the second-place Chilliwack Chiefs (10-6-0-0-0).  The Chiefs and Cents face each other Sunday, while Kings have a day to rest up before they take on the Chiefs on Monday (5 p.m. start).