Merritt Centennials
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The Centennials continue their quest after Christmas to find a win, and tonight they'll face the tall task of beating the league leaders, and a team that's had their number so far this season, the Vernon Vipers.

After going 5-2 before Christmas, the Cents have dropped two in a row to the Coquitlam Express. The Vipers went 5-2 through December with one of those wins coming over the Cents, a 4-2 victory at Kal Tire Place, but it's interesting to note that their two losses in December came against Coquitlam, and Salmon Arm. Salmon Arm will be the next team on tap, tomorrow at home. 

The Cents have yet to win a game against the Vipers this season despite being in every match up. They lost 2-0 early in the season, 3-2 in November, and 4-2 in December. That 4-2 game on December 15th, saw the Centennials as the ones causing puck drop delays as the bus had electrical issues and the team had to wait for a new bus. However, when the puck did drop at 7:55 it was the Centennials who had the giddy up in the first and jumped out to the 2-0 lead. The second and third belonged to the Vipers, and they were able to strike 4 times over the two periods to complete the comeback. Jagger Williamson and Josh Prokop each had 3 point nights. 

Since that mid-December clash, the Vipers have made some changes to their lineup, adding Cameron Trott after he spent the first half of the season with Alaska Anchorage in the NCAA. A big defender at 6'3 205 pounds, he's played over 110 games in the BCHL and has already slid right back in with the snakes. They also pulled off a deal to bring even more skill into the lineup by acquiring Josh Latta from the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in exchange for Brandon Whistle. Latta has 35 points in 64 career BCHL games including 11 points in 18 games this year with the 'Backs. 

On the Vipers he's just another depth piece as they're led in points by Jimmy Lambert (44), Brett Stapley (39), Jagger Williamson (39), Jesse Landsdell (34), and Josh Prokop (31). That's 6 skaters over 30 points, 10 over 20, and 13 with over 10. The Cents by comparison have Zach Zorn and Henry Cleghorn over 30, 7 skaters over 20, and 14 over 10 points on the year, and prove that depth wise they matchup well against the Vipers.The Cents will feel like they've acquired a new player, as Rylan Van Unen will make his return to the lineup for the first time since late November, after getting selected to and winning a gold medal with Team Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge. 

Vernon is now 7th in the league with the man advantage at 19.9%, the Cents have been snake bitten since Christmas going 0-for in their last two games, and have fallen to 10th at 18.2%. On the penalty kill, the Cents still looking for a perfect game since Christmas as they've surrendered 3 powerplay goals in two games and sit at 10th with 81.6%, the Vipers in 6th with 83%. 

In net, the Vipers boast the top tandem in the league with Anthony Yamnitsky and Ty Taylor. Taylor has now unseated Penticton's Adam Scheel as the top goalie in the BCHL with a record of 15-2-0-3, a 92.3 SV%, a 1.94 GAA, and 4 shutouts. Yamnitsky is 11-7-0-1 with a 91.8%, a 2.15 GAA, and 2 shutouts. A tall task no matter who is in net. The Cents likely to go back to Jake Berger after Austin Roden got the start against the Express on Wednesday. Berger now 10-14-2-0 with a 90.8 SV% a 3.31 GAA and 2 shutouts. Roden 4-2-0-1 in a Cents uniform, 93.4 SV% and a 2.66 GAA. 

In preparing for the Vipers, Head Coach Joe Martin says that all the games coming up count. 

"It's not just against the Vipers, these games against Coquitlam were big, Salmon Arm is big. All these games coming up are big." 

The Cents will need to come up big to top the top team in the league tonight. 

Listen live on Q101.1FM, 7pm puck drop, 6:45 pre game with Jared Thomas, or online at Q101.ca. 

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The Merritt Centennials found themselves searching for the equalizer late, on the powerplay, Roden on the bench, but couldn’t get the equalizer they needed. The Coquitlam Express squeaking out a 3-2 victory that they built up in the first two period.

The first period saw the teams trade goals, but once again it was the Express finding the mark on the powerplay. Jack Graham got his first of the season from just outside the blue paint, putting it five hole past Austin Roden who got the start tonight.

Merritt would find the equalizer late in the period at the 15:56 mark with Matthieu Gosselin circling around the net on the right side, feeding it out to the slot to Chase Bell, who went across the crease to Henry Cleghorn who batted it home on his second attempt for his 16th of the season to tie it at one.

The second was filled with penalties, but no one converted on them. The Express would be the only team to find the board with 2 goals a 1:10 apart late in the second. Troy Robillard had the first off a goal mouth scramble, where Roden made two huge saves before surrendering on the third, and shortly after Lucas Wong found the puck loose in the high slot and beat Roden low-blocker side.

The Cents pushed hard for the equalizer in the third, throwing everything they had at Stevenson and more shots (12) in the period than they had in the game (10) up to that point.

Brad Cocca would get the Cents to within one when he came flying across the crease, and dove onto a Nick Wicks feed from the wall. The sprawling goal came with 15 more minutes to play in the 3rd, but the Cents couldn’t get the equalizer.

Matt Kopperud had two chances ring off the post in the game, and Stevenson was able to handle the rest.

After the game, Joe Martin said two lapses in play was the turning point.

“We have two mental breakdowns, one in the neutral zone, one in the high slot, and when you can’t convert on your chances your mind drifts back to that.”

The road doesn’t get any easier, as next up are the league leading Vernon Vipers on Friday night in Vernon at 7pm.

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The Cents start the new year against the team they ended the old year against, as they travel to Coquitlam to take on the Express in a rematch trying to avenge a late night 5-2 loss they suffered the last time out. 

That game saw the Express come in late, puck drop being delayed to 9:15, and the Cents dominate the 1st period. However, goaltender Clay Stevenson was able to hold the Express in the game and keep it scoreless throughout the 1st, and when the second began with a powerplay carried over, the Express converted. Josh Bruce had the goal, and minutes later Josh Wildauer got another on the powerplay. Colby Pederson got the Express out by three with a sharp angle short side shot, and that would end Jacob Berger's night. Ashton Stockie would get the Cents within two, but that would be as close as the Cents would get. Pederson tallied another to make it 4-1 in the third before Tyrell Buckley made it 4-2 on the powerplay. Eric Linell iced it with an empty netter to make it 5-2. 

The Cents will use that game as motivation to start the new year off right. The Express despite being near the bottom of the league, have turned it around since making a head coaching change. They finished December 5-3 with big wins, over some of the biggest teams in the league. The Cents need to respect this rejuvenated club, and with no travel advisories in effect today, the game should start on schedule so that won't be a distraction. 

The Cents will also need to respect the Express powerplay that went 2 for 3 in the last game, and took the wind out of Merritt's sails during the second period. The Express still sitting in 16th in the league with 12.7%, but sometimes numbers are just that. The Centennials sitting in 9th in the league with 19%, but they were having trouble getting a good flow going on their powerplay opportunities in the last game. On the other side, penalty kill wise the Cents 10th in the league at 81% and the Express 15th with 78%. As we saw last friday, special teams might be the difference. 

Eric Linell continues to be the standout for the Express, while Zach Zorn has now slid into the team lead for the Cents. Rookie Josh Wildauer looked good last Friday and has 19 points on the year, while Colby Pederson had the hot hand with 2 goals. Tyrell Buckley will look to provide more offense from the back end, and the Cents need to see a little more from the line of Nick Wicks, Zach Court, and Brad Cocca. 

In net, the Express might be turning back to Clay Stevenson after his first star performance on Friday, plus the injury to Brock Hamm. Stevenson now 3-10 with an 89 SV% and a 3.74 GAA. The Cents may decide to give Jacob Berger another chance in the crease, but lately the rock in net has been showing some inconsistency. He's gone from standout performances, to games where he's been chased from the net, and now sports a 10-14-2-0 record with a 90.8 SV% and a 3.31 GAA. Austin Roden allowed one goal in relief duties last Friday, and is 4-1-0-1 in a Centennials uniform with a 93.4 SV% and a 2.73 GAA. 

The Centennials will look to start the new year off with the win they were looking for to end 2017. 

Puck drop at 7pm, Pre Game at 6:45 with Jared Thomas on Q101.1 FM or online at q101.ca. 

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The Centennials finish off 2017 with a 15-16-2-1 record, just one game below .500, and considering where they started (0-6) they've done well to get back to even ground. 

Halfway through the season we've had a mix of rookies stepping up, veterans improving, timely acquisitions, and solid goaltending to get the Cents in contention in the Interior Division. 

While hockey is a team first sport, certain individuals have broken from the pack. Here's my breakdown of Best Rookie, Best Defenseman, MVP, Most Improved, Unsung Hero, and Hardest to Play Against. 

Best Rookie: Ashton Stockie - Honorable Mentions: Matthieu Gosselin, Brendan Schneider

Coming into the year with only 8 returning players, it was a forgone conclusion that some rookies would have to elevate their game. A player who stands out for his speed, his playmaking, his tenacity, and his shot is Ashton Stockie. Anchoring a line down the middle is what gives him the edge over Matthieu 'Goose' Gosselin, and Brendan Schneider. Stockie has 19 points on the year (2nd amongst rookies and tied for 6th on the team) with 6 goals, most of those coming from his smooth shot, that's a mix of quick release and pin point accuracy. 

Best Defenseman: Tyrell Buckley - Honrable Mentions: Joey Berkopec, Jackson Munro

Tyrell Buckley and Mike Van Unen were the only two returning defenders on the back end this year for the Cents, and the Captain has been the most dominant defender through 2017. A combination of minutes played, his ability to play in any situation, reading the play, providing a physical edge, and chipping in offensively makes Tyrell Buckley the standout on the blue line. With 23 points on the year, he's 4th in team scoring, and is leading by example. When the Cents need to hang onto the lead, or push for the goal you can bet Tyrell Buckley is on the ice. 

MVP: Henry Cleghorn - Honorable Mentions: Tyrell Buckley, Jacob Berger, Zach Zorn

With a lot of offense leaving the Cents in the off season to the USHL, one of the big questions coming into the season was who was going to supply the goals? The Cents have responded with their depth up and down the line up, and this award could go to a multitude of players, but once again for anchoring the middle of the ice I will give the edge to Henry Cleghorn. First with Zach Zorn on his wing, one of the turning points of the season may have been splitting up that dynamic duo. More recently with Chase Bell and Matthieu Gosselin, Cleghorn continues to pile up the points. Now just a point behind Zach Zorn with 33 on the year, he's been a pleasant surprise up front, not to mention he notched the Cents only hat trick of the year.

Most Improved: Matthieu Gosselin - Honorable Mentions: Sam Miller, Jack Vincent

Once again this is an award that could have gone to any player on the Cents, but in terms of improvement from the beginning of the season to now Matthieu Gosselin gets the edge. Early on in the year, he was having trouble putting his skills to good use, but now he's become a great play maker with finishing ability using his speed to find open ice for himself or team mates, and he isn't afraid to get into the dirty areas and work for the puck despite being one of the Cents smaller players. He leads rookies in scoring as of the turn of the calendar with 20 points. 

Unsung Hero: Jacob Berger - Honorable Mentions: Nick Wicks, Zach Court, Austin Roden

The Cents did have one certainty coming into the season, and that was Jacob Berger coming in to be their number 1. When Vincent Duplessis went down with injury early in the season, Berger had to shoulder an even bigger workload, and briefly led the league in minutes played. He's also the only Centennials player to win Player of the Week honors from the BCHL. Everytime he's between the pipes he gives the team a chance to win. 

Hardest to Play Against: Zach Zorn - Honorable Mentions: Brendan Schneider, Joey Berkopec

This is another one that comes down to opinion, but for a player that leads the team in scoring it all comes in the hardworking package of Zach Zorn. Whether it's short handed and leading the league in goals, providing the net front presence on the powerplay, digging for loose pucks, using his speed to breakaway, or using his strength to stand up for team mates (leads the Cents in tussles with 2), Zach Zorn only has one gear and that's all out. 

Agree or Disagree?? Leave a comment and let us know who you'd give the awards to!

Cents are next in action against the Coquitlam Express on Wednesday, in Coquitlam at 7pm.  

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The Centennials had to wait, and wait, and wait to ring in their last game of 2017. After over a 2 hour delay the puck finally dropped in the NVMA as the Express made their first and only appearance to Merritt this season. 

In the first the Cents had all sorts of jump, but couldn't beat rookie goaltender Clay Stevenson who got the start for the Express. He stopped all 14 shots thrown his way, while Jacob Berger had limited duty and stopped all 4 shots he faced. 

The second saw more action, unfortunately it was on the wrong side of the scoreboard. With a powerplay that carried over from the first the Express were able to capitalize just over a minute in, off a rebound in front Josh Bruce was able to backhand it past Berger to get the games first goal. 

The Cents responded by going right back to the box, and the Express went right back to the recipe that got them their first goal. A rebound in front, this time Josh Wildauer was the one to backhand it home in front to make it 2-0, both coming on the powerplay. 

The next goal didn't come until midway through the period, but on an Express rush with numbers it was Colby Pederson who was able to shoot a lazer blocker side from the short side up and over Berger, and that ended the Cents netminders night as Austin Roden came in relief. 

The move sparked the Cents who were able to score just over a minute later. Joey Berkopec jumped up in the rush and tangled up the Express defender at the offensive blue line. Ashton Stockie was able to walk onto the loose puck, and roof a shot over the glove of Stevenson for the Cents first goal and stop the bleeding making it 3-1. 

The third saw the Cents pushing for the equalizer again, and despite lengthy periods in the Express end came up empty handed. Once again the Express capitalized on the counter attack getting a goal from Pederson to make it 4-2. 

The Cents answered on the powerplay on a point shot from Tyrell Buckley that found it's way through with Stockie and Zach Zorn provided the net front presence. 

Despite the strong third period push, the Cents weren't able to beat Stevenson again, and when they pulled Roden to get the extra attacker they were immediately scored on to make it a 5-2 final. 

Head Coach Joe Martin said after the game that the team was trying their best. 

"At times we were working hard, but sometimes not hard enough. Despite playing a large part of the game in their end, we weren't committing as much to defense."

The Cents will get a chance for revenge next Wednesday when they travel to Coquitlam for a rematch, and the final game of the season series. 

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