The 2nd in the Interior Division Merritt Centennials (28-14-4-3) take on the Mainland's 3rd place Coquitlam Express (25-21-2-2) tonight.
The Centennials are coming off a light week of action with just 2 games, but are heading into their heaviest of the season with 4 games in 5 nights this week. The Cents were unable to get into the win column in the week that was, but did pick up one of a possible four points in a shootout loss. First up was the Wenatchee Wild last Wednesday, and the Cents had trouble breaking through a strong neutral zone of the Wild. Mathieu Gosselin was able to score in the first period, and Nick Granowicz was able to add a late goal to make things interesting, but the Cents fell 3-2 in regulation - their first regulation defeat in 2019.
On Saturday night against the Trail Smoke Eaters, the coaching staff elected to switch up the forward group hoping to add some life and some intrigue to lines that may have been getting too comfortable. It paid off early as the Cents were able to get two first period goals from Brendan Schneider and Brett Roloson for a 2-2 tie, but after that the offense dried up and the teams skated all the way through the last 45 minutes without a goal. That gave way to the shootout where the Cents were burned again, unable to score on three shooters and surrendering one to wiz kid Kent Johnson of the Smokies. The result was a 3-2 shootout loss.
The Cents now look to return to the win column against the Coquitlam Express, a team they just snuck past earlier in January 5-4. Payton Matsui and Rylan Van Unen scored to tie the game at 2's but the Express surged out to a 4-2 lead after 40 minutes. Que the comeback, Daniel Tkac would score with less than 5 minutes to go, and Nick Wicks would score with less than a minute to go to tie the game at 4. In OT, the Cents dominated and Wicks dangled in and was able to secure the OT victory with a snipe short side high.
The big news prior to that game against the Express was Coquitlam's acquisition of Surrey's Ty Westgard before the trade deadline. It was the biggest splash, and the biggest fish available on the trade market. However, in their last 5 the Express are 0-3-2 with their most recent loss coming to the Salmon Arm Silverbacks last night 2-1 in the shootout.
The Cents need a little more from their top weapons. Brad Cocca is up to 55 points which is 9th in the BCHL, but hasn't registered more than 2 points in a game in the new year. The same can be said for Nick Granowicz with 51 points, however he did get a goal and an assist against the Wild last week. Nick Wicks has been steadily picking up points and is now tied with Grano at 51, and Mathieu Gosselin is sitting on the precipice of 50 with 49 points.
The Express are led by Josh Wildauer up front with 49 points, newly acquired Ty Westgard has 45, Alex DiPaolo has 43 and Regan Kimens has 42.
The special teams battle sees the Express with the edge.
Powerplay: Penalty Kill:
Coq: 19.6% (10th) Coq; 77.8% (12th)
Cents: 18.4% (14th) Cents: 76.5% (14th)
The goalie duel sees Roden coming off a pair of overtime defeats, and Duplessis hitting the win column in his last start. Austin Roden is 19-7-3 with a .903 SV%, a 3.11 GAA, and 1 shutout. Vincent Duplessis is 9-5-3 with a .906 SV% and a 3.21 GAA.
Both goalies for the Express are capable and have split time this season. Kolby Matthews is 13-13 with a .907 SV%, a 2.81 GAA, and 1 shutout. Clay Stevenson is 12-10 with an .880 SV%, a 3.77 GAA, and 1 shutout.
Assistant Coach Brandon Shaw says the Express will be a tough test.
"Coquitlam is a big team, a strong team, and a fast team. We will have to outwork them and make life difficult for them when they visit our barn."
The Cents will put their toughness to the test tonight.
Puck Drop 7pm. Pre-Game 6:45 on Q101.1FM and Q101.ca with Jared Thomas.