The Merritt Centennials get set to open the season tonight against a division rival - the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.
Last year the Centennials finished 6th in the Interior Division, leap frogging the Backs in the final week of the season, with a 24-27-5 record. The season series between the two teams saw the Centennials with a 4-2 edge. They series swung in the Cents favour by taking all games on home ice, plus a double OT thriller in Salmon Arm. Offense was never an issue as the teams combined for 46 goals over their rivalry last year, but goaltending is something Salmon Arm has addressed in the offseason.
There will be many familiar faces on the Centennials in all positions as it's one of the strongest returning rosters in Head Coach and General Manager Joe Martin's tenure. 14 players will return that saw time last year, 15 if you include affiliate player Frazer Dodd.
The net will be a position of strength for the Centennials as they believe they have one of the best tandems in the league. Austin Roden returns after a spectacular year in the crease for the Cents going 12-11-0-3 with a save percentage that was tied for best in the league at .931, and a goals against average that was 5th best in the league at 2.40. Vincent Duplessis comes back after an injury plagued rookie season. He only saw action in 2 games, 1 in which he suffered a season ending injury, but impressed enough for the Cents to carry him all year on the roster, and now it's time for him to prove the Cents right and he has looked great in preseason.
On defense the Centennials will enjoy nearly a full starting 6 coming back. Mike Van Unen, Joey Berkopec, Colten Gerlib, Jackson Munro, and Mattias Dal Monte will all be back, and have all improved immensely in the offseason and come in with something to prove this year. Dal Monte suffered an injury in preseason and will be out for the next couple weeks, but there's plenty of talent to fill the void in the meantime. A Merritt local will don a Centennials jersey for the first time in 5 years, as Talon Zakall has made the club out of camp, Jaydon Fetter comes over from the GOJHL, and Brady Ziemer who was signed yesterday will provide some grit from his time as Captain in the US High School League.
Up front the Cents will have a number of offensive weapons to lean on, while the newcomers get accustomed to the speed of the league. Nick Wicks leads the returning group in offensive output as he put up 42 points last year, but he will get plenty of help from Mathieu Gosselin, Brendan Schneider, Brad Cocca, Rylan Van Unen, Matt Kopperud, and Christian Sabin. There's plenty of incoming talent with the additions of Nic Granowicz, Daniel Tkac, Brett Roloson, Ben Ward, and former affiliate Frazer Dodd.
The preseason wasn't terribly kind to either club in tonight's matchup. The Cents went 1-2-1-0, the lone win coming in extra time against the Prince George Spruce Kings, the rest hard fought one goal games, including an overtime loss in the preseason finale to Prince George. The Silverbacks didn't fare much better going 1-1-1-1, including a shootout win.
The Cents and Silverbacks both look to start the season on the right foot, but due to the new BCHL overtime rules, there's no longer room for a tie so only one team will go home happy.
Puck Drop 7pm, Pre-Game 6:45 with Play by Play Broadcaster Jared Thomas on HockeyTV, on the dial in Merritt at Q101.1FM, or audio only at Q101.ca