The Merritt Centennials (5-4) begin their Island road swing tonight against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs (3-6).
Coming off their most successful September in terms of wins in 12 years, the Cents are looking to build another win streak after snapping a two-game skid with a 5-2 win against the Vernon Vipers on Saturday. That contest lived and died on the powerplay. In the first, the Cents got things going with a marker from Nick Granowicz, who got an early one with the man advantage, but the Vipers answered with a goal of their own on the PP. After starting the game 1/1 on the PP, the Cents had a string of 4 chances that went unfulfilled in the second, and the Vipers were able to slow the game down and take advantage on a counter-attack to make it 2-1 heading into the third. The Cents offense, and their powerplay came back to life in the third period where they had goals from Brad Cocca, Daniel Tkac, Mathieu Gosselin, and an empty netter from Brendan Schneider to make it 5-2. The powerplay went 3/7 and Vincent Duplessis picked up his first win of the year stopping 25 of 27 shots.
Last season, the Cents skated to a hard fought 3-3 tie in the Bulldog's barn, and the Cents were able to top the Dogs on home ice 4-1.
The Bulldogs have gotten off to a rough start. After winning their first two games of the year against Cowichan and Nanaimo, the Dogs dropped 6 straight before winning their last contest against the Surrey Eagles 5-3.
Statistically, these teams are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to offense. The Cents lead the league when it comes to filling the net with 35 goals for while the Bulldogs are 17th with 16 goals this season. The Dogs are also last in the league in terms of goal differential with -16. However, in terms of team defense the Bulldogs have allowed fewer goals than the Centennials with 33 compared to the Cents 35.
Brad Cocca remains the Cents lone representative in the top 5 in league scoring with 13 points, but teammates Mathieu Gosselin, Brendan Schneider, Matt Kopperud, and Nick Granowicz still crack the top 20 with 10 points a piece. Early in the season, the Cents only have 3 players that have been held off the score sheet: Mattias Dal Monte, Ben Ward, and newcomer Vincent Guy. However, the Cents would like to see some more contributions from the defense, who despite helping set up many Cents goals, have only cached in once off the stick of Talon Zakall.
The Bulldogs are led by second year forward Keaton Mastrodonato who has 5 points, and Ryan Miotto, who came over from Penticton in a trade for Andre Ghantous, with 4 points.
The special teams battle sees the Cents improving with the extra man now at 10th with 15.5% while the Bulldogs are struggling out of the gates with a BCHL 16th and 11.8%. However, on the penalty kill the Dogs are among the strongest in the league at 87.5% which is good enough for 3rd league-wide. The Cents sit in 15th when short a man at 75.5%
In net you can expect both goalies to see some action in the 3-in-3 weekend. Austin Roden has led the Cents to a 4-2 record when between the pipes and sports a 4.12 GAA and a .874 SV%. Vincent Duplessis is fresh off his first win of the year at 1-2 with a 3.17 GAA and a .888 SV%. The Bulldogs have a decent tandem in net as John Hawthorne has seen the majority of the starts and is 3-4 with a 3.51 GAA and a .903 SV%. Former Interior Division rival from West Kelowna Cole Demers is 0-2 with a 4.03 GAA and a .855 SV%.
Head Coach Joe Martin says that the Bulldogs can't be taken lightly just because of their record.
"They're a fast team, a structured team. If we keep playing like we have been we should end up on top, but we can't afford to underestimate them."
The Cents look to keep the ball rolling tonight with a win against the Bulldogs.
Puck Drop 7pm from the Dog Pound in Port Alberni. Pre-Game 6:45 on Q101.1FM or stream online at Q101.ca with Jared Thomas.