Penticton Vees defenceman Griffin Mendel fires off a shot in Game 1 of the BCHL’s second-round action against the Merritt Centennials March 17 at the South Okanagan Events Centre. Mendel’s shot cracked the post and went in on Centennials goalie Jacob Berger to give the Vees a 2-0 lead in the second period. The Vees went on to win 4-1, to take a 1-0 series lead. Emanuel Sequeira/Western News

Mendel nets winner as Vees take series opener against the Centennials

Gabe Bast scored twice and Griffin Mendel netted the winner for the Penticton Vees over Merritt.

Gabe Bast scored twice and Griffin Mendel went bar down with his winner as the Penticton Vees iced the Merritt Centennials 4-1 on Friday.

The win at the South Okanagan Events Centre in front of an announced crowd of 3,030, gives the Vees a 1-0 lead in the BCHL’s second round best-of-seven series.

“It’s huge,” said Bast of their quick start, as he scored 1:24 into the game. “In the playoffs you want to get off to a good start. Every bounce matters. Getting a goal early the paved the way for the rest of the game.

Chris Klack set things in motion for the Vees to go up 2-0. He fed Nicholas Jones the puck, who then dished it off to Mendel, who burst down the wing. Once deep inside the Centennials zone, Mendel let a quick wrist shot go that went off the cross bar and in past Jacob Berger’s glove side. That goal came with 2:19 remaining in the opening frame.

“That was a huge goal,” said Bast. “Mendy made a great play there and that’s a huge goal for us.”

Neither team managed a goal in the middle frame, but the Vees outshot the Centennials 15-11 and finished with a 40-27 advantage. Among the chances for the Vees had was Turner Ripplinger finding Jared Nash in front of the crease, but he couldn’t convert. Later, after Centennial Michael Regush missed the net on a breakaway, Sillinger broke out to the Centennials zone with Grant Cruikshank. He dished the puck over to Cruikshank, the Vees’ regular season goal leader, but he couldn’t beat Berger.

Bast gave the Vees a 3-0 lead three minutes into the third. Jonny Tychonick fed him the puck and Bast fired a shot just inside the blueline and it found a way in. Later, the Centennials had two great chances. On the first, they fired the puck through the crease as Robson danced to avoid knocking it in, while the second immediately after saw them miss an empty net with Robson out of position.

The Centennials did solve Robson, as Tyrell Buckley beat him glove side at the midway mark. With just over two minutes remaining in regulation, Duncan Campbell and James Miller set up Jones, who deked out Berger for the 4-1 lead.

“I thought we were solid all around. Our goalie played phenomenal, he made some huge saves for us,” said Bast. “We had all four lines going up front. Our d-men stepped up in huge times. Everybody had a key part to that game.”

Game 2 at the South Okanagan Events Centre will be at 6 p.m.