The Merritt Centennials have their backs against the wall with the Wenatchee Wild circling for a do or die game 4 matchup tonight.
The Cents have gotten incrementally better throughout the series, but have run out of time for moral victories and now need to get a W or their season is over.
Game 1 saw the Centennials come out flat, whether it was due to events of the week before, regrouping from the season, or just bad luck they fell 4-0 against the Wild going 2/8 on the penalty kill, and only mustering 14 shots on net. Jacob Berger was pulled after allowing 4 goals, and Austin Roden was perfect in relief.
The Cents had a better effort in Game 2, coming out strong with an early goal, and converting 4 times at even strength to earn themselves a tie heading into the final frame at 4-4. The Wild were able to pull ahead thanks to the strength of their powerplay which went 4/6 as the Cents fell 6-4. Both starters were pulled in this game with Seth Eisele getting the hook after allowing 2 goals on 3 shots, and Austin Roden allowing 4 goals through a period and a half. Both Berger and Austin Park allowed 2 goals in their relief efforts.
With the series shifting back to Merritt for game 3 the Cents and Wild both started the relievers of the game before, and for the first time in the series the game was scoreless after 1, and the goaltenders saw the game all the way through from start to finish. The Cents also accomplished something they hadn't yet done in the series winning the special teams battle. The Cents shut down the Wild on the powerplay as they went 0/3, and they also converted on their man advantage chances going 2/4. Despite those moral victories, the Cents allowed 5 goals at even strength in game 3, and 3 of them came from the high slot with guys walking in over the blue line. However, the Cents did show some push back at the end of the game, channeling that extra physical gear by scoring 2 goals in the final 2 minutes to make it a one goal game, but with the goalie pulled they couldn't sustain offensive zone pressure and the comeback bid fell short 5-4.
The special teams total now sees the Wild at 6/17 or 35.2% while the Cents are now 2/9 or 22%.
Goaltending remains the big question as either team could have reason to start either netminder. Austin Park has taken over in the series, but the WIld could return to Seth Eisele after Park allowed 4 in game 3. Eisele is 1-0 with a 1.84 GAA and a 88.2 SV% while Park is 2-0 with a 3.14 GAA and a 85.7 SV%. The Cents will have a big decision to make between the pipes, Berger is the first to see a game through, but Roden is fully capable of stealing a game in net. Berger is 0-3 with a 88.8 SV% and a 5.20 GAA and Roden hasn't been the goaltender of record but seen action in two games with an 88.6 SV% and a 4.56 GAA.
There's no time to feel sorry for themselves, the Cents need to regroup with their best effort of the season. When this team plays like they're capable of playing, they can beat any team in the BCHL, it's just a matter of putting that effort together for a full 60 minutes. Head Coach Joe Martin said in the post game show that they don't want to look at the end of the series and question their desire and effort levels. They can question the x's and o's, they can question the special teams, but they don't want to hold anything back in an elimination game. The Cents are playing for the promise of one more game, and for some of the team it coud be their last junior hockey game.
The Cents are cornered and the only way out is to fight their way through the Wild.
Puck Drop 7pm, Pre-Game 6:45 with Jared Thomas on Q101.1FM or online at q101.ca.
The Merritt Centennials came roaring back in the final minutes of the game, but couldn't get that extra goal they needed to tie it and force overtime falling 5-4 against the Wenatchee Wild.
The Cents and Wild did something that hasn't been done all series, and that's skate to a scoreless tie in the first. The Cents also managed to hold their own on the first penalty kill of the game, another first, and that set the tone as they killed all 3 Wild opportunities. Wenatchee hurled 20 shots on net while the Cents only managed 6.
In the second, the offense did arrive, but it was the Wild who struck first. Cooper Zech found a loose puck to the side of the net after sneaking in from the point to get one past Berger.
The Cents were able to answer on the powerplay, for the first time in the series, and it was Zach Court who powered the puck ou from behind the net and took it to the slotbefore firing it down low to tie things up at 1.
Halfway through the middle frame, Jasper Weatherby scored his 5th of the series by deflecting in a Zech point shot, and Zech continued his hot play in the second by adding another goal to make it 3-1 after 2.
The first goal of the third period went to the Cents on the powerplay. Once again it was Zach Court who tallied and brought the Cents within one down 3-2.
The Wild were able to restore the 2-goal lead with a Lucas Sowder shot as he crossed the line in the middle and fired one that was partially deflected past Berger.
The game seemed to be out of reach when Slava Demin took the puck from the left point and skated in unchallenged between the hashmarks before roofing one to give the Wild the 5-3 lead.
With just over 2 minutes left, Mathieu Gosselin found some room on the right side, and found Ashton Stockie streaking to the net to make it 5-3.
Then with the team doing some grunt work in front, Zach Zorn was able to bat home a rebound from a Colten Gerlib shot to make it 5-4.
In the final minute of play, the Cents couldn't muster anymore magic and fell short.
After the game, Head Coach Joe Martin said that he saw good effort from his players with the game on the line, something they'll need in a do-or-die game 4.
"You don't want to be asking yourself what if? You can what if the x's and o's, you can what if the powerplay, but you can't what if the effort and the desire to win, you have to leave it all out there."
The Cents will need to bring their full effort to force a game 5, but first comes game 4 - tomorrow night, 7pm puck drop from the NVMA.
The series swaps venues starting tonight as the Merritt Centennials welcome the Wenatchee Wild to the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena.
The Cents will hope to get an assist from their home rink, which is the smallest in the BCHL, to help slow down the Wild and their high flying offense. After two games the Wild are humming along, in large part due to their powerplay which is 6/14 or a staggering 42.8%! Jasper Weatherby and Cooper Zech, the league's leaders on forward and defense, have arrived in the series. Weatherby has 6 points, scoring 2 in each game including the game winners, and Zech has added 4 assists as he quarterbacks the powerplay.
The offense for the Cents did arrive in game 2, and as has been the case all season the team got it done by committee. Christian Sabin scored unnassisted on a sharp angle shot 33 seconds into the game to get the Cents first goal of the playoffs. Rylan Van Unen and Matt Kopperud combined on a 2-on-1 to tie the game at two and chase game 1 starter Seth Eisele. Mathieu Gosselin collected a feed from Nick Wicks and fired one far-side blocker on Austin Park, and Zach Risteau streaked down the wing on a Mike Van Unen offering before sniping one top corner glove side. All the Cents goals have come during even strength play as they haven't managed to convert on the powerplay in the series going 0/5 including a 5-minute major and a full 2-minute 5-on-3.
Goaltending hasn't been sensational for either side. Eisele coming off a shutout on 14 shots in game 1, allowed 2 goals on 3 shots in game 2 and was pulled in favour of Austin Park. Austin Roden after shutting the door on 16 shots in relief in game 1, only stopped 15/19 in game 2 before being pulled in favour of Jacob Berger. In Roden's defense, 3 of the 4 goals allowed were on the powerplay.
Needless to say discipline will be a huge factor in game 3. Head Coach Joe Martin mentioned that the Cents goal was to allow for 3 minors a game, and through 2 games their averaging 7. That being said, the Cents also need to seize the opportunity when it arises which hasn't been often with only 5 powerplay chances, but that makes them all the more valuable. In the post game comments from game 2, Coach Martin also said his team needs to rise to the moment instead of being overcome by it and there's no bigger moment in the series than game 3 when you're down 2-0. 2-1 is a lot easier to swallow than down 3-0 on the verge of elimination.
In net after two games for the Wild, Eisele is 1-0 with an 88.2 SV%, a 1.84 GAA and 1 shutout. Park who the Cents saw for the first time this season in game 2 is 1-0 with an 88.9 SV% and a 2.20 GAA. For the Cents, Roden hasn't been the goaltender of record for either loss but has a 88.6 SV% and a 4.56 GAA while Jacob Berger has an 88.7 SV% and a 5.38 GAA.
The Cents need to play better from the net out and rise to the occasion of a crucial game 3.
A reminder to show up wearing your red to support the team in their biggest game of the year.
Puck Drop 7pm, Pre-Game 6:45 with Jared Thomas on Q101.1FM or online at q101.ca.
The Merritt Centennials found their offensive legs in game 2, but weren’t able to stop the Wild on the penalty kill as they surrendered 4/6 and fell 6-4.
It was the Cents who struck early in the game, just 33 seconds in Christian Sabin snuck one past Seth Eisele shortside and it found a hole to make it 1-0.
The Wild were able to answer on the powerplay just 2 minutes later, and just 10 seconds in to the attack, Lucas Sowder was able to tie the game 1-1.
Nathan Ionnone got his first of the post season after a sneaky set up by Sam Morton who drove wide, and behind the net, dishing a no look backhand pass before skating out the other side and Austin Roden was caught looking the wrong way and beaten to the blocker side.
31 seconds later, Matt Kopperud was set up perfectly by Rylan Van Unen on a two-on-one, and Kopperud fired one between the legs of Eisele to draw the Cents level 2-2. Eisele would be pulled after allowing 2 goals on 3 shots, and the Cents would get their first taste of Austin Park who hasn’t started a single game all year against the Cents.
Chad Sasaki would add one late for the Wild to pull them back ahead 3-2, once again on the powerplay.
With just 6 seconds to go there was a dust up following a delayed high stick, and Murphy Stratton ended up cross checking Brendan Schneider from behind and going off for a 5 minute major and a game misconduct.
To start the second the Cents had virtually a full 5 minute powerplay, and halfway through that a full 2 minute 5-on-3, but weren’t able to convert on a glowing opportunity.
Halfway through the second the Wild would jump out by 2 following another powerplay goal. Jasper Weatherby found himself open between the hashmarks and ripped one glove side on Roden to make it 4-2. That would end Roden’s night and Jake Berger would come into the game, marking the second game in a row where the Cents netminder had been pulled.
Late in the second, the Cents would start to come on strong. Mathieu Gosselin got the puck at the right hash mark off a feed from Nick Wicks and was able to fire one blocker side to get the Cents within one.
Less than a minute later Zach Risteau beat Park clean to the glove side and blast the water bottle off the netting to make it 4-4.
The Cents went into the third with the game in their hands, but after surrendering an early powerplay to the Wild, which they killed, the Cents found themselves on their heels.
Jasper Weatherby got the go ahead goal off a deflection of a Cooper Zech shot to pull the Wild ahead at the 11:45 mark, and AJ Vanderbeck iced the game with 1:30 to go before the Cents could even pull the goalie.
After the game, Head Coach Joe Martin noted that the Cents got caught up in the moment.
“Towards the end of the game, or during that 5-on-3 powerplay we got a little caught up in the moment and were forcing plays, or just throwing pucks away instead of making something happen.”
The Cents will look to stay more disciplined, and make more happen when they return home to the Nicola Valley for a Tuesday night matchup at 7pm.