The Centennials have a chance to wrap their preseason schedule with an even 2-2 record if they can pull out a win against the Prince George Spruce Kings tonight.
The two teams met on Wednesday up north in PG, and the game needed extra time to decide a winner. Vincent Duplessis was solid in his first full start of the preseason, stopping 34 of 36 shots, and kept the Cents in the game when they were being outplayed early. Layton Ahac scored in the final minute of the first frame on the powerplay to give the Spruce Kings the 1-0 lead.
In the second, Christian Sabin evened things up as him and Matt Kopperud crashed the net and tag teamed it home.
The final period saw the game become a little more lively, the Spruce Kings got themselves an early goal courtesy hometown product Corey Cunningham, but Nic Granowicz would tie things up halfway through the period when he picked a defenseman's pocket skated in alone, and sniped one down low to tie things back up at 2. Towards the end of the game, with things getting chippy, the Spruce Kings were assessed a boarding penalty with 11 seconds remaining.
In the extra frame, the Centennials controlled right off the opening face off and didn't look back as Matt Kopperud was finally able to convert a Mathieu Gosselin saucer pass into the back of the net to give the Cents their first victory of the preseason.
Tonight, the Centennials lineup will remain pretty well unchanged. Chemistry is starting to build amongst the established lines, and Head Coach Joe Martin wants to see that chemistry grow instead of changing things up too early. The Cents will still be without the services of Daniel Tkac, who was injured in the final intrasquad game, and a defenseman will see some time at forward, or cycling through as a 7th d-man. Colten Gerlib filled that role on Wednesday, and it will fall to another defender to seize that opportunity tonight.
Austin Roden will likely make his first full start of the preseason, and has been exceptional so far allowing only one goal over two half-games against the Vernon Vipers.
One thing the Cents will have to keep an eye on is their discipline, on Wednesday night they spent a fair amount of time in the box in the second period, and are best when they can keep their four lines rolling.
Come on down to the NVMA tonight by 7pm to see the Cents wrap their preseason schedule against the Spruce Kings. Admission is $5 at the door, and season ticket holders get in free.
The Merritt Centennials slowly found their legs after a long bus ride North to Prince George, and capitalized on a powerplay in overtime to capture their first win of the exhibition season.
The first period started off slow for the Cents and they were heavily out shot. If not for some fine work from Vincent Duplessis the scoreline could've been far worse, although the Spruce Kings did manage to get one past him in the first.
The middle frame saw the Cents slowly start to come alive and it was Christian Sabin who found the back of the net after collecting a sharp angle rebound off a Matt Kopperud shot to tie things up. Despite a turnstile of players that headed to the box on both sides, the scoreline stayed at one a piece through 2.
In the third, the Spruce Kings shot out to an early lead, but the Cents were able to respond quickly. Nic Granowicz showed off some speed to the outside and was able to beat the Spruce Kings goaltender down low to restore the tie at 2. Momentum started to swing in the Cents favour as the 3rd period rolled on, and the Cents were gifted a powerplay late in the frame which carried over into extra time.
In overtime the Cents took advantage of the extra man by cycling the puck perfectly around the horn before a cross seam pass found Matt Kopperud perfectly on the tape and he was able to one-time it past a sprawling Prince George netminder for the win.
It brings the Centennials pre-season record to 1-2, and sets up the Centennials final exhibition game at the NVMA, a 7pm puckdrop against the Spruce Kings on Friday.
The Merritt Centennials make the long road trip north to battle the Prince George Spruce Kings in their 3rd Exhibition game tonight.
The Centennials went 1-2 against the Spruce Kings last year with each team taking a victory at home and Prince George besting the Cents at the showcase. However, all the games were tightly contested with both of the Spruce Kings wins coming by one-goal margins, one of them in overtime. The Centennials win at home was the largest, a 5-2 victory.
The Spruce Kings are coming off a season when they went all the way to the Fred Page Cup Finals, but were only bested by the same team that defeated the Centennials in playoff action: the Wenatchee Wild. Many would expect a deep run in the playoffs to involve players that were in their final year with the BCHL, but the Spruce Kings will have plenty of returning firepower. Up front forwards Ben Brar, Dustin Manz, Patrick Cozzi, and Ben Poisson who were among the teams leading scorers are all returning. On the back end standouts like Liam Watson Braun, Layton Ahac, and Dylan Anhorn will all be back for another go round. This Spruce Kings club hasn't taken many steps back in the off season, and this home at home series against the Centennials will be their first opportunity to see what kind of club they have for 2017-18.
The Centennials are fresh off a couple games against the Vernon Vipers this weekend, and the results weren't what the team was hoping for dropping both in tight decisions. The exhibition opener at home saw the Cents fall 3-1, and the follow up game in Vernon resulted in a 2-1 loss. However, in those losses the Cents goaltending looked sharp, they outshot the Vipers 90-59 over the two games, they drove play, and the chemistry is slowly starting to build in the lineup.
Tonight's match up will mark the first with the new signings, and Head Coach and General Manager Joe Martin is looking for the team to come together.
"We like our group. It's important to us to start gelling right away and become even better as a team."
The only change to the lineup tonight will be the loss of Daniel Tkac to injury, and the return of Josh Van Unen to Shawnigan Lake. As a result, Colten Gerlib will line up as a winger, but could also see time cycling through as a defenseman.
Austin Roden will get the start in net, and so far through preseason he has proven tough to beat allowing only 1 goal through the two half games he has played.
The game will be available online on HockeyTV, with the puck set to drop for 7pm.
The Cents have signed 5 new players out of camp in addition to Talon Zakall, and Jaydon Fetter.
The remaining roster spots all belong to forwards: Daniel Tkac, Nic Granowicz, Brett Roloson, Ben Ward, and Frazer Dodd.
Daniel Tkac has the distinction of being Slovakian/American and can claim roots in Presov, Slovakia despite being born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. Tkac spent last season playing with the Omaha Lancers of the HPHL, but he also participated in the World Junior Under 18s for Slovakia where he put up 1 goal and 2 assists for 3 points. During the regular season with the Lancers, Tkac split time with the Midget team and the under 18 team, but combined for 32 goals, 33 assists and 65 points in 72 games played.
Tkac says that this season he will be looking for his team mates.
"I think I'm a play maker, a bit of a skill guy, I think I can bring a lot of chances to the team, a lot of goals and assists, and help the team win."
Tkac adds that in his brief experience with Merritt, it's the people that are standing out so far.
"A lot of nice people that's for sure. Everywhere I go people just say Hi, and the scenery is gorgeous too."
Nic Granowicz is the most experienced of the Centennials signings out of camp having played 3 years of Junior hockey already in his career. Hailing from Macomb, Michigan, Granowicz joins the Cents after a split campaign with the Toledo Roadrunners of the NAHL and the Cedar Rapids Roughriders of the USHL. He served as Captain of the Roadrunners before moving to the Roughriders, but produced 39 points in 53 games played combined with the two clubs adding 15 goals and 24 assists over the year.
Granowicz says that he has a lot of weapons, but they all centre around speed.
"I play with a lot of speed, hard and fast and on the puck. I think I can contribute in the offensive and defensive zones, and overall be a good help to the team. This is my third year of junior, I've been in a lot of different situations so I think I will be a good resource for the rookies, and when we're in a tough situation in a game hopefully help out and bring us to a win."
Granowicz adds that so far he's enjoying the relaxed pace of Merritt.
"It's a change for me, but I think it's a nice little town. You can get where you need to go very quickly, and everyone is really nice."
Brett Roloson possesses a last name some NHL goaltender buffs may recognize as he is the son of Dwayne Roloson, but the Victoria native has been making a name for himself in the CSSHL where he's impressed at Shawnigan Lake School Prep putting up over a point-per-game pace with 15 goals, 31 assists, for 46 points in 35 games played last season.
Roloson says that he possesses two things you can't teach that he will bring to the team.
"My speed is at the top speed I can reach, my hands are pretty good, and those skills combined with my work ethic will be a big help to the team."
Roloson echoes the sentiments of his new team mates in regards to Merritt.
"It's the people, they're really heartwarming, and help you move in and stuff. It's a small town so everyone knows each other, so it's nice to know that people are keeping an eye on you."
The name Frazer Dodd may not be new to die hard Centennials fans, and that's because the Hazelton, BC native was an Affiliate Player with the Centennials last season getting into 7 games and supplying 4 assists. Dodd spent the majority of the regular season with the 100 Mile House Wranglers of the KIJHL where he supplied plenty of offense with 25 goals, 22 assists, for 47 points in 42 games played. In camp he supplied plenty of fire, and got under the skin of opponents, a role he'll look to continue into the regular season.
Dodd says that his all around skills will serve the Cents well.
"I think my work ethic is one of my strengths, my offensive game is at the strongest it's been, but I'm also pretty aware of my defensive zone."
Dodd adds that it's the people that make Merritt great.
"I just think everyone's so friendly. The people are friendly, the billets are friendly, everyone you meet is always just... super friendly."
Ben Ward didn't have to travel far for camp as he hails from Kamloops, BC, but he did have to work his way onto the team by impressing in camp. Ward last played in the CSSHL with the Delta Hockey Academy and put up 19 goals along with 8 assists for 27 points in 31 games played. He will be the smallest Centennials forward on the roster, but what he lacks in size he makes up for in heart.
Ward says that his game doesn't allow for much time and space.
"I think a big part of my game is to put as much pressure on the D-men as I can, and at the end of the day I want to be able to produce offense out of that too."
Ward adds that he thinks Junior 'A' belongs in Merritt.
"I've enjoyed my time here a lot. I think this is the perfect town for a Junior 'A' club, not too big, not too small, all the people come together in the community and it's perfect."
For the first time since the 2013-14 season, a Merritt local will be on the roster for the Merritt Centennials.
Talon Zakall follows in the footsteps of Payton Schaefer as the first Merrittonian to make the Cents in five years. Zakall played his hockey last season in the CSSHL for the Yale Hockey Academy Elite 15 squad where he recorded 5 goals, 21 assists for 26 points in 35 games.
Head Coach and General Manager Joe Martin says that they've had their eye on Zakall for a while.
"He makes smart plays with the puck, and we always seem to be in a better position offensively when he moves the puck. We noticed that right away in our spring camp back in April, but with a young guy like that you want to make sure they go through the process of how they train, how they come to camp prepared, and how they play instead of just giving him a commitment. I think that Talon has handled that well."
Martin adds that Zakall brings a lot of different tools to the Centennials.
"I think the first thing that jumps out with Talon is his brain. He's a very smart, cerebral player with comparisons to Reece Wilcox and the way that he plays. He's not a bone crushing guy, he's not a one-dimensional offensive guy, he's an all around guy who does a lot of smart things with the puck."
In talking with Zakall, he's just honoured to be a part of history.
"I'm just going to do what I can to help the team, get on the ice as much as I can, make plays, and whatever I have to do to help the team be better. I like to be an offensive defenseman that jumps up in the rush, but always make sure to get back and shut guys down on defense as well. Growing up in the arena, and getting a chance to join the longest running BCHL franchise it's a dream come true."
Zakall joins Daniel Tkac, Nicholas Granowicz, Frazer Dodd, Brett Roloson, and Ben Ward as other players who have made the team out of camp.