The offseason has begun in earnest and the Merritt Centennials will host their first camp of the year with 80 invitees who will split into 4 teams.
There will be some locals who have a chance to make the squad: Defenseman Atrayu Johnny, Goaltender Colton Macauley, and Forwards Anthony Tulliani and Liam Kelly all hail from the Merritt Midget program. Other locals who have gone abroad for their midget years include: Goaltender Brendan Culbertson from Atlanta in the USPHL (United States Premier Hockey League), Defenseman Talon Zakall from Yale Elite Prep, and Holden King from Niagara in the GMHL (Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League).
Also of interest there will be two younger brothers of current Centennials who will get a chance to crack the roster. Garrett Wicks younger brother of Nick Wicks has impressed with the Greater Vancouver Canadians this past season putting up 41 points in 40 games. Then there's the possibility of having a trio of brothers on the team with local Joshua Van Unen trying out to join twins Rylan and Michael. Joshua registered 40 points in 34 games with Shawnigan Lake last season.
Among the 80 players, there will also be two Affiliate Players who got action with the Centennials this season: Frazer Dodd and Yewta Plamendon. Dodd contributed 4 points over 7 games for the Cents, and 47 points over 40 games for the 100 Mile Wranglers of the KIJHL. Plamendon got into two games this season with the Cents against the Wenatchee Wild, but was unable to find the scoresheet, but with the Kamloops Storm he was able to add 23 goals and 40 points.
Spring Camp will start this Friday with fitness testing, small area games and scrimmages before wrapping up on Sunday.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have signed defenseman Dane Birks to a two-year, entry level contract.
A Merritt Native, Birks spent time with the Merritt Centennials from 2012-2014, but has spent the last 4 years at Michigan Tech playing for the Huskies, and has shown steady improvement throughout his years. This season he finished with five goals, 13 assists and was a plus 10 in 44 games.
In 112 BCHL games, Birks had 41 points (9 goals and 32 assists), and was named Merritt's Rookie of the Year in 2012-13, and Merritt's Defenseman of the Year in 2013-14.
He will report this week to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on an amateur tryout contract before his deal begins for the 2018-19 campaign.
The buzzer sounded at the SOEC in Penticton last night, and for the first time in 14 years neither the Vernon Vipers or Penticton Vees will be represented in the Interior Division Final.
The Trail Smoke Eaters topped the Vees in Game 7 on the road 4-2 to clinch their first trip to the third round in franchise history, and they will meet the newly moved Wenatchee Wild for the Interior Division Championship and a berth in the BCHL finals. Wenatchee topped the Vernon Vipers 4-2 in the series after coming back from an 0-2 deficit. This will also mean a fourth team (other than the Vees, Vipers, or Warriors) will win the Interior Division title in that 14 year time frame.
The Mainland Division Championship went to seven games as the Spruce Kings dispatched the Surrey Eagles at home in Prince George and it sets up a collision course with Island Division Champions, the Powell River Kings, who won in 5 games over the Victoria Grizzlies. This matchup represents what is the 3rd longest possible series in the BCHL with 890 kilometres between the two rinks (and two ferries!)
The clash of Kings begins on Friday, while the Smoke Eaters and Wild series schedule has not yet been announced.
In basketball it's all about March Madness, but in college hockey the quest for the Frozen Four begins on Friday.
In all, the Merritt Centennials will have 5 alumnus participating in the tournament on 3 different teams. The Michigan Tech Huskies will be taking on the No. 1 seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish, and the Huskies will have 3 former Cents competing: Devin Kero (G-2013-14), Gavin Gould (F-2013-16) , and Dane Birks (D-2012-2014) (who is a draft pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins).
In another matchup, the Providence Friars are taking on the Clarkson Golden Knights, and Brandon Duhaime (F-2014-15), drafted by Minnesota in 2016, will be adding his talents to the Friars side.
Finally, Josh Teves (D-2014-15) will be looking to help the Princeton Tigers upset the No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes.
The round of 16 begins this Friday with the Frozen Four going from April 5-7th in St. Paul Minnesota.