Merritt Centennials
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The Merritt Centennials (23-26-4-2) are set for an even bigger collision course with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks (23-27-3-1) tonight for a rescheduled contest at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena. 

These two teams have been doing a dance all season, jockeying for position in the extremely tight Interior Division, and this game could go a long way to deciding who finishes the season in 6th. The Cents come in with the hotter hand, unbeaten in their last 5, while the Silverbacks are losers of their last three and have only managed to score 1 goal in those losses. The 'Backs were shutout by Trail and Victoria, before managing one goal against the Penticton Vees who trounced the 'Backs 8-1. They won't have much time to lick their wounds as they are in the second game of a string of 5 straight, and the Cents can continue those woes with a win tonight. 

The season series has the Cents in the drivers seat with a 3-2 edge with wins in the two most recent matchups. 4-1 in December and 4-2 in January. Both those wins coming on home ice, and a chance to sweep their home games tonight. Back in January it was Zach Zorn with one, and Mathieu Gosselin with 2 that saw the Cents jump out to a 3-0 lead early into the second period. The Silverbacks came back with 2 goals in the second to make it a one goal game heading into the third, but Brendan Schneider was able to add some insurance late in the third. Austin Roden stopped 39 of 41 shots for the win, while Kyle Dumba took the loss for the 'Backs.

The Cents last game, and last win was on Tuesday night against the Trail Smoke Eaters. The Cents jumped out to what seemed an insurmountable 6-1 lead through 2 periods of play, and then buckled a little in the third with Trail coming back to make it 6-4, before the Cents locked it away with a goal from Ashton Stockie to seal a 7-4 win. The games other goals came from Zach Zorn with 2, while Brendan Schneider, Christian Sabin, and Matt Kopperud. 

The Silverbacks despite their offensive woes of late still have a few players worth checking closely. Rhett Kingston leads the team with 48 points, Tanner Campbell has 34, and Nick Unruh and Akito Hirose both have 27. The Cents are heating up at the right time, and are getting contributions from everyone in the lineup. Nick Wicks is coming off a nomination for Most Sportsmanlike in the league and has 44 points, Zorn netted two on tuesday and has 40, Zach Court is sitting on the 40 bubble with 39 points, and Tyrell Buckley fresh off a college commitment from the Michigan Tech Huskies has 37. 

The special teams matchup sees the Cents coming in hot. In their 5 game unbeaten streak they've managed to score at least one powerplay goal in each game and 8 overall, while they've only allowed 1 powerplay goal against in 20 opportunities. The Cents now 7th on the powerplay with a 20.2% conversion rate, while the 'Backs are 10th with 17.9%, and on the penalty kill the Cents are 6th in the league at 83% while the 'Backs are 15th at 77.7%. 

In net the Cents haven't seen the likes of Reid Cooper this season, but have seen plenty of Kyle Dumba. Both goalies saw action last night in the 8-1 loss against Penticton. Dumba is 8-17-0-1 with an 89.4 SV% and a 3.88 GAA. Cooper is 8-13-0-1 with a 90.2 SV%, a 3.52 GAA and 1 shutout. Jacob Berger collected the win on Tuesday, but with 3 games in the next 3 nights the Cents will need to rely on both of their goaltenders. Berger is 13-21-2-0 with a 90.6 SV%, a 3.43 GAA, and 2 shutouts. Roden is heating up with the Cents as well and is 11-9-1-3 with a BCHL 2nd best 93.0 SV%, a BCHL 6th 2.47 GAA, and 2 shutouts. 

The Cents hope to stay hot, and better their playoff seeding in the season finale against the Silverbacks tonight. 

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

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The Merritt Centennials Captain, Tyrell Buckley, has earned himself a college commitment in the final week, of his final season in the BCHL. 

Buckley will play Division 1 NCAA Hockey with the Michigan Tech University Huskies next season.

A veteran of 4 BCHL seasonsy, all with the Cents, Buckley has proven he's a dynamic player in all situations.

Fresh off an honorable mention in the BCHL's Player of the Week award, Buckley is 7th in scoring amongst defensemen this season, and tied for first with 11 goals scored.  

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The BCHL released their finalists for year end awards today. 

Among the finalists for the Bob Fenton Trophy for Most Sportsmanlike Player is Merritt's Nicholas Wicks. 

He's up against Ben Poisson from Prince George and Gavin Rauser of the Powell River Kings. 

Through the season Wicks has 44 points in 54 games played and has taken 3 penalties for 6 minutes. 

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The Merritt Centennials outlasted the Trail Smoke Eaters in the lone Tuesday night matchup in the BCHL in large part due to early offense.

The first period saw the Cents converting early and often. 8:22 into the game, Brendan Schneider got the Cents started when he finished off a feed after a deke to the side of the net by Zach Court on the first powerplay opportunity.

Christian Sabin fired one from the half wall as he streaked across the right wing that was called off, then reviewed, and called in to make it 2-0.

Zach Zorn tallied the final goal of the frame on the Cents second powerplay opportunity to make it 3-0 by working hard in front and finishing off a rebound after a Nick Wicks shot.

The middle stanza saw the Cents add more offense. Matt Kopperud made his presence felt in his return to the lineup with a patient move to the backhand, out waiting Tanner Marshall and roofing it, following a feed in front by Chase Bell.

Spencer McLean had the only answer of the second for the Smoke Eaters, before Zach Risteau righted the ship just 22 seconds later with a sharp angle, short side snipe up top on Marshall to make it 5-1.

The Cents added one more in the second from Zorn to be comfortably in the driver’s seat 6-1. Maybe a little too comfortable.

To start the third, the Smoke Eaters converted on their first shift. Blaine Caton sneaking one past Berger with a shot from the slot.

The Cents would hold off the attack until the final 5 minutes, Braeden Tuck and Tyler Ghirardosi made things interesting at 6-4.

Head Coach Joe Martin called a time out to calm down his troops, and the message was received as the following shift saw the Cents get some insurance. Ashton Stockie had his 8th of the year from Nick Wicks, the pair dished behind the net until Marshall didn’t know which way to go and Stockie caught him looking the wrong way.

After the game, Coach Martin said that the third will leave a bad taste in their mouths.

“You’re not thinking about things you want to be thinking about after a win. You’re thinking about bad habits we had in the third period… it will be the staffs job to pick apart that third and find things we didn’t like and share them with the guys tomorrow.”

The win sets up another huge Interior Division clash against the Salmon Arm Silverbacks on Thursday night.

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The Merritt Centennials head into the final week of the regular season on a bit of hot streak unbeaten in their last 4, while the Trail Smoke Eaters have faced a tough schedule and come in losers of 5 of their last 6 games.

The Cents had their win streak snapped at 3, but hope they can carry their unbeaten streak through the end of the season. The Smoke Eaters, despite dropping their last few games have still played the Cents strong in every contest they’ve had against each other, and there’s always plenty of offense. Cents are leading the season series 3-2: a 5-4 loss in October, a 3-2 OT win in November, a 4-0 and 5-3 win in December, and a 5-4 loss in January. A combined score of 20-15, and when you consider that Trail is one of the top offensive teams in the league, it gives the Cents confidence to know they can skate with the best.

The Cents are coming off a hard fought tie against the Victoria Grizzlies, who play a similar style to Trail. Both have deep offensive lineups, and have a couple gamebreakers in the ranks. The Cents only allowed Jamie Rome and TJ Friedman to find the scoresheet, while getting goals from Tyrell Buckley and Brendan Schneider who are red hot going into the final week. Despite chances in OT, it was the goaltenders who prevailed with both teams skating away with a tie 2-2 game.

The last games these two teams faced, saw some of the gamebreakers for the Smoke Eaters find the scoreboard. The first period saw a lot of scoring: Matt Kopperud had 2 and Zach Court added another for the Cents, while Trail got goals from Carter Jones and Kale Howarth. Howarth tied things up in the 2nd, and Trail pulled away in the 3rd with a shorthanded goal by Captain Troy Ring, another from Braeden Tuck, before a late goal on the powerplay from Nick Wicks.

Ross Armour and Kale Howarth are the two main threats for the Smoke Eaters. Armour 10th in league scoring with 60 points, Howarth 12th with 59, but if you focus in too much on those two they also have two great rookies in Levi Glasman (47) and Carter Jones (43) who can provide supplemental scoring. With 16 skaters chipping in at least 10 points can come from anywhere.

While the Cents don’t have the runaway scorers that Trail boasts, they do have the depth in scoring to matchup well. 19 skaters now have over 10 points, and 10 of them have over 20. Tyrell Buckley is fresh off an honourable mention in the BCHL’s Player of the Week award with 3 goals and 2 assists over his last three games and 7 points on this unbeaten streak.

A big reason for the Cents’ surge in points has been the improvement of the powerplay which is now 8th at 19.3%, but Trail is a few rungs higher in 5th with a 20.4% conversion rate. On the penalty kill, Merritt is 7th at 82.8% while Trail is 13th at 80.6%.

In net, the Smoke Eaters have relied heavily on Adam Marcoux since acquiring him and have Tanner Marshall in reserve. Marcoux, who spent the beginning of the season with Cowichan Valley is now 13-29-0-3 with a 90.3 SV%, a 3.59 GAA and 1 shutout. Marshall is 9-4 with an 88.5 SV% and a 4.06 GAA, in the last game against the Cents Marshall was pulled in favour of Marcoux for the beginning of the second period.

The Cents will go back to splitting duties this week. Jacob Berger could see a return to the crease, he’s 12-21-2-0 with a 90.6 SV%, a 3.41 GAA, and 2 shutouts. Austin Roden guided the Cents on the 4 games unbeaten streak and is 11-10-0-3 with a 93 SV%, a 2.47 GAA and 2 shutouts.

The Cents will look to keep the streak alive, and stay hot in the final week of the regular season.

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

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