Although the final score on the season said a 6-2 loss, the season was one of the more memorable ones in the recent past. The Centennials became the only team in history to sweep a defending National champion, the 2016 RBC Cup winning West Kelowna Warriors. The Centennials made quick work of them, powered by the heroics of Stephan Seeger. Two overtime victories, both by Seeger. One in triple OT, and one to win the series. This was a team that started the season well, wasn't the best for long stretches in the middle, but finished strong.
The team faced adversity from day one. After tying Prince George 2-2 on day one way back on September 9th, the team got news that Ethan Skinner did not want to continue with the team. He was an offseason acquisition, and losing him hurt. But the team moved on quickly. Brett Jewell was named team captain in their home opener on September 16th, a 5-3 win over Trail. More adversity came their way, when they lost both their games at the BCHL showcase by a combined score of 11-4. The team didn't let that bother them as they went on to win three of the next four games - scoring 18 goals in that span.
The team then lost Tyler Pietrowski (another off season acquisition), who left the team to play in the NAHL. The team replaced him with Stephan Seeger, who would go on to be an assistant captain on the team and was a crucial piece of this team. He made his debut on October 15th, notching two assists in a 6-4 win over Powell River. On October 18th, the team rallied from a third period deficit to topple Salmon Arm 4-3 and move to second place in the Interior Division. The team sat at 8-4-2-1. The team lost Mike Faulkner that game, and things never were the same. The team lost the next nine games in a row, and fell to fifth in the Division.
The team never gave up on each other.
The Centennials won one of the most exciting games at the time, beating Wenatchee 4-1 at home in Faulkner's return to the lineup. That broke the lengthy streak, and gave the Centennials a much needed morale boost. That game was the first of three in a row, and the Centennials got five of a possible six points. The Centennials' record sat at 11-12-5-1 at the end of November. The Centennials won their first overtime game of the season on December third when Zach Metsa rifled home his first career goal in the BCHL. What an exciting game that was. The Centennials would go 2-3-2-1 in the month of December, which ended with a 7-1 thumping of the Coquitlam Express on New Years Eve at home.
The Centennials started off the 2017 calender year, hammering Coquitlam again. This time, it was 8-1 and Cade Gleekel got his first career BCHL hat trick. They would drop a crushing home and home against West Kelowna, losing 4-1 twice. The team lost defenseman Tyler Holz, who had been a big part of the defense. He requested a release to return to the Osoyoos Coyotes. The team went out and got Ethan King from the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL. Then the team got five of a possible six points beating Penticton and Vernon, then losing to Alberni Valley in OT. After thumping Salmon Arm 5-1, the team ended the month of January on a two game losing skid and with a record of 18-19-8-2.
They started the month of February losing to Penticton, then reeled off wins against West Kelowna, and a 3-0 shutout at home against Vernon on February 9th. That was Jake Berger's first career shutout, and the only shutout of the season. The Centennials then played their fourth set of three games in three days. They would lose all three games, and would finish 0-5 vs Island Division teams on the road. The team then lost to Trail 8-5.
That was the last mediocre game for the Centennials.
They would go on to win the last three of the four games on the schedule, the only blip a 1-0 loss in Salmon Arm. The season finale was an exciting game, an 8-3 demolition of the West Kelowna Warriors on February the 24th. That was a sign of things to come. They entered the playoffs playing their best hockey of the season. The final record for the Centennials was 23-25-8-2, good enough for fifth place in the Interior Division. They finished with 56 points (An improvement of five points from the year before) and matched up with the defending champion Warriors in the first round.
The team hammered the Warriors in the first round, beating them 6-4, 5-4, 6-2 and 4-3 to sweep them. Game two say the Centennials blow a 4-0 lead in the third period, and had the game go to triple OT. Stephan Seeger pounced on a rebound to finish off that marathon game on March the 4th. Game four saw the Centennials tie the game with under 30 seconds left, before Seeger scored the series winner in OT to send the brooms crashing on the ice. The team would go on to play the Penticton Vees, and would go on to trail the series 3-1 after a heartbreaking OT loss in game four on a goal that shouldn't have counted.
The team rebounded.
They stole game five 5-4, then took things to the barn in Merritt for game six. After firing 25 shots in the first period, the Centennials took a 1-0 lead. The Vees would tie it, and the game went into overtime. Tyrell Buckley scored the overtime winning goal, to send the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena into a frenzy. The game saw over 1000 people in the rink, and was the most exciting game of the season. The team would lose game seven 6-2, and their season came to an end on March the 27th.
What a run it was.
There wasn't a lot expected of this team. The run they had in the playoffs was something special. The team has seven graduating players who will not be returning next season. They are Nick Fidanza, Stephan Seeger, Aaron Murray, Mike Faulkner, Brett Jewell (Yale), Cade Gleekel (St. Lawrence) and Zach Court (Nebraska-Omaha). The team wishes them the best of luck moving forward. Next season should prove to be an exciting one, as players such as Tyler Ward, Mike Regush, and Zach Risteau will be returning. There is a lot to look forward to, and this team can be a force next season.
Now that it's all said and done, one thing is for sure; this team made the City of Merritt proud. Congratulations to Joe Martin, Matt Samson and the rest of the staff on one heck of a season. The 2016/2017 Merritt Centennials. What a run.