Merritt Centennials
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The Centennials found themselves in familiar territory against the Trail Smoke Eaters on Saturday night in game 2, but they couldn't replicate their success of game 1 falling 5-2 in regulation.

The first period was much the same as a night ago, a string of good chances for the home side, and then one rush the other way and it was in the back of the Centennials net. Mack Byers let loose a wrist shot as he crossed the line, and it went post and in past the blocker of Roden to make it 1-0. Byers would add another on the PP later in the frame with just 2 seconds left to give the Smoke Eaters their first two goal lead of the series. The Cents came back with a power play marker of their own, when Mathieu Gosselin ran into a road block at the blue line, but fed the puck forward to Nick Granowicz, who found Matt Kopperud in the slot and he best Donovan Buskey low-glove to get the Cents back in it 2-1. That's how the first period would end with shots 14-9 in favour of the Cents.

The middle frame did not go the Centennials way, as they could not get an iota of extended zone time. Trying to come over the line with dangle after dangle, the Smoke Eaters would watch them come and turn them back with quick exits time after time. The only line that could sustain any zone time was the energy line, and Matsui, Sabin, and Van Unen. Trevor Zins would add to the Smoke Eaters lead and restore the 2 goal edge with another shot quickly taken across the blue line beating Roden to make it 3-1. After 2 the shots were 25-19 in favour of the Cents.

The third started the way the Cents wanted it to - an early wraparound goal from Rylan Van Unen snuck past Buskey and in to bring the Cents back within one. However, the Cents quickly gave the lead back after an ill advised pinch at centre, and a strip by rookie Kent Johnson. Johnson went in all alone after Jackson Munro blew a tire on the back check, and had Roden at his mercy move forehand, backhand, last second forehand for the highlight reel goal that broke the Cents spirit. The Smoke Eaters added another on the PP to make it 5-2, and the Cents couldn't muster an answer. Final shots were 34-31 Cents.

After the game a very salty Head Coach Joe Martin didn't have much good to say about his team.

"I thought the bottom six played well, and played the right way, but I didn't like our veterans, they were too cute with the puck."

The Cents will try and get back to basics when the series resumes in Trail on Tuesday.

It means that there will definitely be a game 5 in Merritt next Friday March 8th, and you can get tickets on Monday at the Centennials marketing office.

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The Merritt Centennials look to continue to defend home ice in game 2 of the BCHL playoffs against the Trail Smoke Eaters tonight.

Last night the Cents were able to use the strengths of their game to their advantage: their speed, skill and depth up front were difference makers, and with the slate being wiped to zero their special teams have got a fresh look.

It was all Cents in the first 5 minutes of the game, but Trail bode their time and waited to strike on the counterattack and their first official shot on the night beat Austin Roden. Rookie Kent Johnson got a feed from behind the goal line and quickly put it upstairs blocker side to make it 1-0. The Cents had two powerplay opportunities late in the first, but couldn't make good and would have to settle for being down by one after period one.

The Cents regrouped and came out with fire in the second period, and this time they struck pay dirt early. Nick Wicks found Matt Kopperud at the top of the left circle and Kopperud unleashed a wrister that had enough mustard on it to roll over the glove of Buskey and into the net. Merritt wasn't done there as they'd convert with a Smoke Eater in the box when Mike Van Unen ripped a snap shot from the line that went top corner glove-side as well to give the Cents their first lead 2-1. Kopperud would score gain, in the same fashion, from almost the same spot with just under a minute to go in the 2nd to give the Cents the two goal edge, but Trail would pull back within one before the second was done with a deflection goal from Ghirardosi tome make it 3-2 after 2.

Despite playing with the lead, the Cents did a great job of staying on the attack for the majority of the period, and just like he's done all season when the Cents needed a big goal 'Game On' Nick Granowicz was there. Before Trail could even think of pulling the goalie to mount a comeback, Granowicz picked the pocket of Trevor Zins, skated in on Buskey, and made a tight move, backhand forehand up high to give the Cents a two-goal lead. From there the Cents would hang on for the victory.

The game plan for game 1 was pretty well a map for how the Centennials want to, and have to play moving forward. However, there were some lapses in their game that they will be looking to shore up. In talking to Head Coach Joe Martin after the game, he said that he'd like to see the Cents do better in the faceoff dot, and be a little tidier in their own zone, making the simple play to get out of danger. Losing a faceoff in the offensive or defensive zone means, working twice as hard to win the puck back, but there aren't too many teams better at it than the Merritt Centennials.

After having the slate wiped clean, the Cents special teams get a chance to be revitalized.

Powerplay:                                         Penalty Kill:

Cents - 33.3% (4th)                           Cents - 100% (3rd)

Trail - 0% (14th)                                 Trail - 66.7% (11th)

With two goals in game 1 Matt Kopperud leads the charge for the Centennials, Brendan Schneider provided two assists, while Nick Granowicz, and Mike Van Unen provided the other offense on the night.

Trail got goals from Kent Johnson and Tyler Ghirardosi while Diarmad Dimurro set them both up with two helpers.

The goaltending battle will be much the same again tonight with Austin Roden and Donovan Buskey going toe to toe.

Roden is fresh off a commitment to Nebraska Omaha and is 1-0 in the playoffs with a .935 SV% and a 2.00 GAA.

Buskey is 0-1 with an .892 SV% and a 4.00 GAA.

Head Coach Joe Martin felt the pace was key in game 1.

"We definitely were playing the right way, but now we have to be ready for a team who's going to want it a little more tonight."

The Cents will hope to set the pace in game 2.

Puck Drop 7pm. Pre-Game 6:45 on Q101.1FM and Q101.ca with Jared Thomas.

Tonight is an Xplornet Game Day, fans can enter to win a 100 GC simply for checking out their booth, prizes and incentives if you spin their wheel!

Fans can pick up tickets for tonight's game from 3pm to 6pm at the NVMA box office. Get your tickets early, and pack the barn!

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The Centennials got a solid effort from start to finish using their team speed to their advantage to pull off a 4-2 win over the Smoke Eaters in Game 1.

The first period started with a bang. The Cents were looking great right off the hop and tested Smokies starter Donovan Buskey with a couple early chances. Unfortunately, the Cents weren't able to convert on their early opportunities, and the Smokies were able to cash in on their first chance of the period after a scramble behind the net was thrown out front to Kent Johnson who sniped one blocker-side high on Austin Roden to make it 1-0 for Trail. Shots after 1 were 13-11 in favour of the Cents.

In the middle frame the Cents came out of the gate with some pep again, and this time they were rewarded. Just 22 seconds into the second, Nick Wicks played back to Matt Kopperud at the top of the left circle, and Kopperud went glove high and it had enough power to roll over Buskey's glove and in to tie that game 1-1.

Midway through the period, the Cents got their third chance on the powerplay and made good. Brendan Schneider found Mike Van Unen at the line, and he unloaded a howitzer that found its way top corner to give the Cents their first lead of the game 2-1.

Late in the period, from nearly the same spot as the opening of the period Kopperud spun off the left side wall, and form the top of the circle sniped one through the crowd top corner glove on Buskey to give the Cents a two-goal lead 3-1.

The two goal lead wouldn't last long as with just 30 seconds to go in the 2nd, Diarmad Dimurro loosed a shot from the line that was deflected by Ghirardosi and in to make it 3-2. Shots after 2 were 24-19.

The third period saw the Cents return to their speed game, and they spent much of the period in the offensive zone. Before the Smoke Eaters could make a push to tie the game, Nick Granowicz stole the puck off a Smokies defender, cut in ahead a step, and made a sharp move backhand, forehand, upstairs to give the Cents the two goal cushion 4-2.

The Smoke Eaters made a push and pulled the goalie late, but the Cents and Roden held the fort to hang on for the win. Final shots were 37-31 in favour of the Cents.

ENERGY PLAYER OF THE GAME: BRENDAN SCHNEIDER 0G 2A

3RD STAR: Donovan 33/37

2ND STAR: Austin Roden 29/31

1ST STAR: Matt Kopperud 2G 0A

Game 2 goes tomorrow night from the NVMA. Tickets will be available from 3pm - 6pm at the NVMA box office, puck drop 7pm.

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Another Centennials netminder has himself a late season commitment.

Playing stellar all year, and especially down the stretch Austin Roden has committed to the University of Nebraska - Omaha.

The Victoria, BC native is in his 2nd season with the Merritt Centennials and has served as the primary starter throughout the year. Registering the 4th most minutes played in the BCHL with 2442, he finished with the 6th best save percentage at .912, the 10th best goals-against at 2.95, and 2 shutouts. Last season he made it into the BCHL history books with the 5th best save percentage of all-time for a season with .931.

Roden is one of the hardest workers on the team, and he and the Cents head into the post season on a 5 game win streak.

The Centennials keeper is now the 10th Cent with a committed to an NCAA Division 1 program - a team record.

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The 2nd seeded Merritt Centennials (36-15-4-3) and the 7th seeded Trail Smoke Eaters (23-24-8-3) meet in the post season for just the 2nd time in their long histories.

Tonight begins the second season for both clubs, and despite being a 2 vs 7 match up on paper the series will be much tougher than that. The Cents hold the season series edge at 4-0-2, and went perfect against the Smoke Eaters at home. Needless to say home ice advantage will be paramount as both teams have some of the most unique dimensions, and atmosphere's to their rink. The Cents won with a bit of breathing room at every game held at the NVMA by scores of 4-2, 5-3, and most recently 6-4. In games in Trail, the Cents were the only team to win in regulation 5-2, and two games went beyond 60 minutes one a 2-1 loss in OT where Duplessis fell beyond the goal line, the other a 3-2 loss in the shootout. However, overtime will be a full 5-on-5 now that we are into the post season, and there will be no skills competition to bail the Smoke Eaters out either. With the 4th best home record, and the 3rd best away record in the BCHL, the Cents will be looking to defend their territory well in games 1 and 2 and then eyeing at least a split in Trail.

The Cents conclude what was their best season in 30 years, setting highs for wins (36) and win percentage in that span (.681), and their 220 goals for was the best it's been in 13 seasons. Trail managed 184 goals this season while allowing 207 against for a -23 differential, while the Cents were able to outscore many of their problems at +38. While those stats go out the window, and everything is wiped to zero to start game 1 the Cents will have confidence knowing that they are fully capable of beating any team in the BCHL. Having 5 scorers who eclipsed 50 points also helps the team brim with confidence, while the Smoke Eaters had just 2 players get past the 50 point mark. The depth of the Cents up front should be a difference maker in this series.

Defensively it may be Trail that holds a slight edge in the series. Through much of the season they deployed 7 defensemen to give them options on the blue line, and they're built for the playoffs being big and physical. Trail has a lot more of their offense move through the back end with 124 points recorded on the season from defenders, but there is a big drop off in production behind Trevor Zins and Diarmad Dimurro. The Cents are a little more even across the board from 1-7 and have actually helped more on the scoresheet with 128 points, but the Cents also scored 36 more goals than the Smokies. The Cents employ more mobile, puck moving defenseman and will need to be shifty, but also willing to take the hit to make the play.

Special Teams will be the biggest X-factor in the series. Trail has one of the best powerplays on the season, but on the penalty kill both teams struggled. Needless to say, the team that can seize their opportunities with the extra man, but also limit the damage on the penalty kill will have a huge advantage in this series.

Powerplay:                            Penalty Kill:

Trail - 22.8% (4th)             Trail - 77.7% (11th)

Cents - 18.9% (13th)       Cents - 77.3% (13th)

Offensively the Cents will continue to rely on their fantastic five who all eclipsed the 50 points plateau. Brad Cocca finished the season 6th in the league with 68 points, Mathieu Gosselin finished 14th with 60 points, Nick Granowicz finished 16th with 59 points, Nick Wicks finished 18th with 59 points, and Matt Kopperud finished with 51 points on the year.

Conversely, Trail had just 4 players score over 40 points. Carter Jones finished with 55 points, Chase Stevenson had 53, rookie Kent Johnson had 46, and defender Trevor Zins also had 46 points.

As with any trip to the post season, goaltending will play a huge factor. Both teams feature a goalie who is used to getting a lot of action in the crease as Roden was the 4th most utilized goalie in the BCHL with 2442 minutes played, and Marcoux was the 5th most with 2376 minutes played. Austin Roden may be the hottest goalie in the league right now coming off 5 straight wins and the league's final BCHL Player of the week nod. He's 27-8-3 with a .912 SV%, a 2.95 GAA, and 2 shutouts. Vincent Duplessis is back to 100%, but hasn't seen action in nearly a month. He is 9-5-3 with a .906 SV% and a 3.21 GAA.

Donovan Buskey may be turned to early on in the series with Adam Marcoux recovering from injury. Buskey is 5-4 with an .880 SV% and a 3.99 GAA. Marcoux has been the guy this season for Trail with a record of 16-22 with a .893 SV% and a 3.13 GAA.

Head Coach Joe Martin knows this isn't a Trail team to be taken lightly.

"I have a lot of respect for Trail, and I think that's a feeling our team needs to have, but at the same time we need to make sure we're playing the right way, and our way."

Game 1 of the playoffs goes tonight, and it is Murray GM night. The first 100 fans will get a free rally towel, Murray GM giveaways in the first intermission, and a $140 detailing package up for grabs in the 2nd intermission.

Get your tickets by 3pm from the Marketing Office across from Canada Post, or after 3pm tickets will be available at the door at the NVMA.

Puck Drop 7pm. Pre-Game 6:45 on Q101.1 FM and Q101.ca with Jared Thomas.

 

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