Just a week after the last matchup between these two clubs, the Vipers and Cents meet once again, and Merritt is still searching for their first win against the top team in the BCHL.
Most recently the Cents dropped a 2-0 decision, in a game with lots of neutral zone play and not a whole lot of offense. The lone tally with Jacob Berger in net came on the powerplay, a drop pass to Jimmy Lambert from Brett Stapley as the Vipers crossed the blue line, and Lambert was able to fire one blocker side on Berger to get the 1-0 lead. The Cents had trouble finding offense, but had opportunities on breakaways, a powerplays throughout the game, but couldn't convert, and late in the game Vipers Captain Jagger Williamson capped things off with an empty netter.
The Cents are coming off a hard fought loss to the Penticton Vees on Wednesday night, a game in which they led or were tied for 45 minutes of the game, but the Vees only needed one chance to seize the lead and hung on from there. Matt Kopperud had the lone goal of the first, the Vees answered in the second early, Joey Berkopec scored from the half-wall, and Matthieu Gosselin converted on the powerplay to make it 3-1. The Vees got some fortunate bounces to tie it at 3's before Captain Owen Sillinger capitalized at a turnover at the blue line in the third to get the eventual game winner 4-3.
The Vipers come into this one with only one game under their belt since last Friday, a 3-2 loss to the Spruce Kings at the Vernon Civic Centre, a game in which they honored many former Vipers, and people surrounding the organization. The Vipers will have some extra motivation tonight as long-time owner Duncan Wray passed away just yesterday. Under Wray's stewardship the Vipers won 4 National Championships, and 7 BCHL Championships since 1992. I never got the pleasure of meeting him, but from what I'm told he was a great ambassador for junior hockey, and wanted the boys who played for his team to pursue their dreams and get an education. May he rest in peace.
The Cents are only two points up on the Salmon Arm Silverbacks for 6th in the division, while the Vipers sit in top spot and are the first team to clinch a playoff spot in the BCHL. The Vipers have made a couple more moves since last Friday, bringing in forward Derek Brown from the Bonnyville Pontiacs of the AJHL for Sol Seibel, Brown had 38 poins in 30 games played for Bonnyville before the trade. Also, Sam Anzai was traded to Prince George for future considerations.
Henry Cleghorn (36) and Zach Zorn (35) continue to lead the way for the Merritt Centennials, but the hottest hand of late has been rookie Matthieu Gosselin, now up to 25 points and has 3 powerplay goals in his last 2 games. The Cents will need to convert on some powerplays against the Vipers if they want to come away with a win. The Cents now 10th on the powerplay with 18.3%, the Vipers in 8th at 19.5%. On the penalty kill, the Vipers 6th with 83.3% the Cents 9th with 82%
For the Vipers it's the same old snipers, Jimmy Lambert (45), Jagger Williamson (41), and Brett Stapley (40) represent the top players, but the Vipers are built on depth. With their acquisitions before the deadline, there's a reason why they are tops in the league, and their healthy respect for any opponent has been what's kept them ahead night in and night out.
In net, the Vipers still have the top tandem in the league. Ty Taylor leads the way with a record of 16-3-0-3, a 1.90 GAA, and a 92.9 SV% with 5 shutouts, one against the Cents. Anthony Yamnitsky is 11-7-0-1 record with a 91.8 SV%, a 2.15 GAA, and 2 shutouts. The Cents will most likely swap back to Austin Roden tonight, 7-6-0-2 with a 2.84 GAA and a 92.3 SV%. Jacob Berger is fresh off the heels of a college committment to Minnesota State University, so congratulations to him as next season he will be playing for the Mavericks in division one NCAA hockey. He's 10-16-2-0 with 2 shutouts this season, a 91.0 SV% and a 3.25 GAA.
It's another tall task for the Centennials tonight, but one they look to meet.
Puck drop 7pm, Pre-game 6:45 with Jared Thomas on Q101.1FM or online a q101.ca.