The Merritt Centennials (23-13-1-1) kick off 2019 with a tough test against the BCHL leading Prince George Spruce Kings (25-9-1-2).
The Centennials went into the Christmas break and ended 2018 on a high note taking a home-and-home series with the Trail Smoke Eaters. There were some solid story lines heading into the holidays, some including 20 year old players. The Cents got some solid performances from Christian Sabin and Nick Granowicz in those two games. Sabin was playing his power forward style best putting up 3 goals over the weekend where he was driving hard to the net, and causing turnovers with his speed and size. Granowicz saw a return to form which earned him an honorable mention in the final BCHL Player of the Week nomination for 2018. He picked up 2 goals and 2 assists over the last weekend of action, one was the game-winning goal against Trail in game 1 of the double-header and he is tied for the league lead in that category with 7. The Cents will hope solid play continues up and down the line up into the new year.
Prince George is coming off a light end to 2018. They were unable to play one of their match ups in the final weekend due to a storm that ravaged the coast, and just managed a delayed puck drop against the Surrey Eagles. Due to that their last two games have actually been against the Eagles. Surrey took a rare win in Prince George 2-1, but PG returned the favour the following week by topping the Eagles 3-0 to finish the year.
The only time the Centennials and Spruce Kings have clashed this season was up in Prince George for a mid-week clash, and the Cents couldn't shake the road rust early enough. Prince George pounced with 3 goals in the first chasing Vincent Duplessis from the crease, and Austin Roden stopped the rest but the offense never arrived for the Cents. Mathieu Gosselin would provide the lone goal in the third period to bring the Cents within 2, but that would be as close as Merritt would come.
The Cents will hope that they will be able give Prince George a similar treatment as we've seen the home-side jump out to an early lead multiple times at the NVMA. In fact the Cents, with a 15-5 record at home, have the 2nd best home record in the Interior Division and are tied for the 2nd best home record in the BCHL. They're 95 goals on home ice are tops in the league as well, and out pace the nearest team by 10 goals, and they're goal differential of 29 is 2nd best in the BCHL. The Cents will hope to continue to use home ice to their advantage as they push for top spot in the Interior Division.
The Cents will look for more contributions from their leading scorers. Brad Cocca is 3rd in league scoring with 50 points, and 2nd in assists with 34. Nick Granowicz is back into the top ten in scoring - 8th with 45 points. Captain Nick Wicks has started to turn it on as well and is 18th with 40 points.
Prince George has a couple of representatives in the top 20 as well. Dustin Manz is 11th with 43 points, Ben Brar is 17th with 40 points, and their next leading scorer is Patrick Cozzi with 32 points.
The special teams battle favours the Spruce Kings:
Powerplay: Penalty Kill:
PG - 18.9% (12th) PG - 79.7% (10th)
Cents - 18.1% (15th) Cents - 75% (16th)
The goaltending duel will see the Cents looking to match their counter part on the other side of the ice who has the top GAA in the BCHL. Austin Roden is 15-7 with a .897 SV%, a 3.34 GAA and 1 shutout. Vincent Duplessis is 8-6-2 with a .904 SV% and a 3.31 GAA. The Spruce Kings will likely turn to workhorse Logan Neaton who is 21-5 with a .915 SV%, a 1.87 GAA, and 2 shutouts.
Head Coach Joe Martin says the Cents are eager to get back into action.
"We've had a couple of good practices to get our legs back. Have worked on some x's and o's that were doing well before the break and we are ready to go."
The Cents and fans eagerly await the first win of 2019.
Puck drop 7pm at the NVMA. Pre-Game 6:45 on Q101.1FM and Q101.ca with Jared Thomas.