The Merritt Centennials have started the year with back to back overtime victories, this time over the Vernon Vipers 3-2.
The Cents started strong in their first road game of 2019. The team tested Bradley Cooper, who looked shaky early, but despite getting shots through the netminder they couldn’t get them into the net. Until Mathieu Gosselin was given way too much room behind the net, and Nick Granowicz barged his way to the front and Gosselin put it on a platter for Grano to make it 1-0. It would be the only goal of the first as Austin Roden continued his hot play by stopping all comers. Shots after 1 were 8-8.
In the middle stanza, Cooper started to round into form and the Cents couldn’t beat him despite plenty of chances. After only one penalty in the first period, the penalties started to pile up in the second and the Cents took one too many. Connor Marritt would score on a rebound to tie the game at one’s after two. Shots after two period of play were 22-21 in favour of the Vipers.
In the third, the penalties continued and early on it was the Cents with a two man advantage. They would convert their first powerplay of 2019 when Brendan Schneider found a puck that got through Cooper and into the blue paint and bang it home to make it 2-1. However, late in the game the refs would give the Vipers a two-man advantage and they’d equalize the game with a Matt Kowalski wrister from the slot. The penalties continued to stack up late in the third, and the Cents had to be sharp to get the game to extra time. Shots after 3 were 36-27 in favour of the Vipers.
The Cents had their hands full killing of a penalty to start the overtime frame. The penalty kill would persevere and then Mike Van Unen would draw a penalty by driving the net hard and getting hauled down. With the 4-on-3 advantage the Cents would go to work, and only needed one shot to win it. Mathieu Gosselin teed one up from the top of the left circle, and Nick Granowicz would deflect it out of mid-air and in to give the Cents the win.
With the two points, the Cents will vault into 1st place in the Interior Division over the idle Penticton Vees.
After the game, Head Coach Joe Martin said he loved the teams compete.
“You have to give full credit to the guys on this one. They didn’t give up when the chips were stacked against them, and they ended up getting rewarded.”
ENERGY PLAYER OF THE GAME: Josh Latta 0G 2A
3RD STAR: Austin Roden 37/39
2nd STAR: Matt Kowalski 1G 1A
1st STAR: Nick Granowicz 2G 0A
The Merritt Centennials (24-13-1-1) take to the road for the first time in 2019 to face the Vernon Vipers (14-16-6-3).
The Cents are coming off the most exciting game of the season against the Prince George Spruce Kings, a game that had a little bit of everything. The goalies dueled for a full 2 periods, as Austin Roden and Logan Neaton stopped all comers until 5 minutes into the 3rd. Payton Matsui scored the first goal of the New Year for the Cents by electing to keep on a 2-on-1 and rocketing a wrister top shelf. The lead didn't last long as the Spruce Kings got a 2-on-1 of their own moments later and beat Roden down low. PG would add to their lead on the powerplay to give them a 2-1 edge with just over 8 minutes to go, but the Cents wouldn't back down. In the final minute, Matt Kopperud converted out of a melee in front from a Mathieu Gosselin pass to tie the game at 2's and send it to OT. In overtime, the goaltenders shone once again to ensure the 3-on-3 segment didn't result in victory. Kopperud made good on the first shootout attempt with a nifty move between the legs to net the only goal of the shootout, as Austin Roden stared down all comers to give the Cents the thrilling shootout victory to start 2019.
The Vipers are coming off a win of their own to start 2019 against a West Kelowna Warriors club that is chasing the Cents in the standings. The snakes were able to build up an early lead and hang on. Josh Latta, Brendan Kim (2), and Coleton Bilodeau built up a 4-1 lead then survived the late push from the Warriors. The Vipers, despite their record, are a stingy team that doesn't give up many chances on home ice, and the Cents will have to play a simple road game if they want to upset the home side in game two of 2019.
The last time these two teams met was in late November in Vernon and it was the Vipers who were able to take the game 3-2. The majority of their chances came on the counter-attack as the Cents were playing a little too cute with the puck. The only goals were a deflection on the powerplay from Christian Sabin, and a no nonsense shot from Brady Ziemer off the half-wall to make things interesting late, but the Cents couldn't mount the comeback.
The Cents got a big game from Matt Kopperud who extends his points streak to 8 games, but Captain Nick Wicks' point streak was snapped at 10 games. Brad Cocca was held off the score sheet but still has a team best 50 points, but falls into a tie for 4th in BCHL scoring. Nick Granowicz picked up an assist on the game-tying goal and is 6th league-wide with 46 points, and Wicks is hanging in the top 20 at 19th with 40 points.
The Vipers are led by rookie Teddy Wooding in scoring with 28 points, Matt Kowalski has 27, and Josh Latta has 25 points.
The special teams battle sees the Vipers with the edge.
Powerplay: Penalty Kill:
Vipers - 19.7% (5th) Vipers - 83.1% (7th)
Cents - 17.7% (15th) Cents - 75.1% (16th)
Austin Roden is coming off one of his best performances of the year, and could get his 2nd start in a row. He's now 16-7 with a .898 SV% and a 3.27 GAA with 1 shutout. Vincent Duplessis is 8-5-2 with a .901 SV% and a 3.31 GAA. Vernon now has two goalies they can rely on. Aiden Porter is 9-14 with a .903 SV% and a 2.86 GAA and 3 shutouts. Bradley Cooper is 5-10 with a .919 SV%, a 2.22 GAA and 3 shutouts as well.
Head Coach Joe Martin knows that the Vipers despite their spot in the standings are still a talented club.
"They've lost a couple players to major-junior, they've made a few more moves this year than usual, but they're still really sound defensively and have been in a lot of tight games this year."
The Cents will hope to put their talent on display and stay perfect in 2019.
Puck drop 6pm at Kal Tire Place. Pre-Game 5:45 on Q101.1FM and Q101.ca with Jared Thomas.
The Merritt Centennials needed the full 65 minutes and then some against the Prince George Spruce Kings as they needed the shootout to top the leagues top team 3-2.
The first period started with the teams trading chances, and powerplay opportunities - but neither team would take advantage and the goaltenders would be the story early. Shots were 9-8 after one in favour of the Spruce Kings as Logan Neaton and Austin Roden duelled between the pipes.
The middle frame saw a few more penalties but it didn't make a difference on the scoreboard. Logan Neaton had to make a few highlight reel stops, but Austin Roden pulled his weight too as the goaltenders continued to steal the show. Shots after 2 were 20-19.
The offense finally arrived with the 3rd period. Payton Matsui scored the 1st goal for the Cents in the New Year and his 3rd on the season 5 minutes into the frame. Converting on a 2-on-1 he opted to shoot and went top shelf on Neaton to break the goose egg and make it 1-0. However, the Spruce Kings' Nolan Welsh converted on a 2-on-1 on the following possession to tie the game up at one. The Cents would continue to press, but Prince George would get a late powerplay and Nick Poisson would score on a rush top corner over the line. That would give the Spruce Kings a 2-1 lead with 8 minutes remaining and put the Cents against the wall. Forced into a corner the Cents saved some of their best hockey for late in the game. With just under a minute to go, a shot from the line would be blocked by Nick Granowicz but he'd feed it Mathieu Gosselin, who found Matt Kopperud to the side of the net, and Kopperud batted the puck out of mid-air and in to force the game to overtime.
In overtime, it was the goaltenders chance to shine once again as Neaton and Roden came up with huge saves to keep their teams in it. Final shots were 36-31 in favour of the Cents.
The goaltender's battle went down to the wire as the teams would head to a shootout. Fresh off scoring the game-tying goal, Matt Kopperud continued to clutch up with a gorgeos penalty shot. Veering wide-left on the forehand, Kopperud cut to the middle with speed, made the move to the backhand, and then put it between his legs, and top shelf for the lone goal of the shootout. Austin Roden stopped all 3 shots he faced in the shootout and earned himself first star billing in the first win of 2019.
After the game, Head Coach Joe Martin said the Cents came through when it counted.
"It was a great effort from Roden to keep us in it, and a great push from the team to push us over the top."
The Cents look to continue the streak against the Vernon Vipers on the road at 6pm tomorrow night.
ENERGY PLAYER OF THE GAME: Jaydon Fetter 0G 0A
3RD STAR: Matt Kopperud 2G 0A
2ND STAR: Logan Neaton 33/35
1ST STAR: Austin Roden 29/31
The Merritt Centennials (23-13-1-1) kick off 2019 with a tough test against the BCHL leading Prince George Spruce Kings (25-9-1-2).
The Centennials went into the Christmas break and ended 2018 on a high note taking a home-and-home series with the Trail Smoke Eaters. There were some solid story lines heading into the holidays, some including 20 year old players. The Cents got some solid performances from Christian Sabin and Nick Granowicz in those two games. Sabin was playing his power forward style best putting up 3 goals over the weekend where he was driving hard to the net, and causing turnovers with his speed and size. Granowicz saw a return to form which earned him an honorable mention in the final BCHL Player of the Week nomination for 2018. He picked up 2 goals and 2 assists over the last weekend of action, one was the game-winning goal against Trail in game 1 of the double-header and he is tied for the league lead in that category with 7. The Cents will hope solid play continues up and down the line up into the new year.
Prince George is coming off a light end to 2018. They were unable to play one of their match ups in the final weekend due to a storm that ravaged the coast, and just managed a delayed puck drop against the Surrey Eagles. Due to that their last two games have actually been against the Eagles. Surrey took a rare win in Prince George 2-1, but PG returned the favour the following week by topping the Eagles 3-0 to finish the year.
The only time the Centennials and Spruce Kings have clashed this season was up in Prince George for a mid-week clash, and the Cents couldn't shake the road rust early enough. Prince George pounced with 3 goals in the first chasing Vincent Duplessis from the crease, and Austin Roden stopped the rest but the offense never arrived for the Cents. Mathieu Gosselin would provide the lone goal in the third period to bring the Cents within 2, but that would be as close as Merritt would come.
The Cents will hope that they will be able give Prince George a similar treatment as we've seen the home-side jump out to an early lead multiple times at the NVMA. In fact the Cents, with a 15-5 record at home, have the 2nd best home record in the Interior Division and are tied for the 2nd best home record in the BCHL. They're 95 goals on home ice are tops in the league as well, and out pace the nearest team by 10 goals, and they're goal differential of 29 is 2nd best in the BCHL. The Cents will hope to continue to use home ice to their advantage as they push for top spot in the Interior Division.
The Cents will look for more contributions from their leading scorers. Brad Cocca is 3rd in league scoring with 50 points, and 2nd in assists with 34. Nick Granowicz is back into the top ten in scoring - 8th with 45 points. Captain Nick Wicks has started to turn it on as well and is 18th with 40 points.
Prince George has a couple of representatives in the top 20 as well. Dustin Manz is 11th with 43 points, Ben Brar is 17th with 40 points, and their next leading scorer is Patrick Cozzi with 32 points.
The special teams battle favours the Spruce Kings:
Powerplay: Penalty Kill:
PG - 18.9% (12th) PG - 79.7% (10th)
Cents - 18.1% (15th) Cents - 75% (16th)
The goaltending duel will see the Cents looking to match their counter part on the other side of the ice who has the top GAA in the BCHL. Austin Roden is 15-7 with a .897 SV%, a 3.34 GAA and 1 shutout. Vincent Duplessis is 8-6-2 with a .904 SV% and a 3.31 GAA. The Spruce Kings will likely turn to workhorse Logan Neaton who is 21-5 with a .915 SV%, a 1.87 GAA, and 2 shutouts.
Head Coach Joe Martin says the Cents are eager to get back into action.
"We've had a couple of good practices to get our legs back. Have worked on some x's and o's that were doing well before the break and we are ready to go."
The Cents and fans eagerly await the first win of 2019.
Puck drop 7pm at the NVMA. Pre-Game 6:45 on Q101.1FM and Q101.ca with Jared Thomas.
Nick Granowicz has been named an honorable mention in the final BCHL Player of the Week announcement for 2018.
After busting a mini-slump that saw the Cents forward start to slip in the BCHL scoring race the weekend prior, he soundly closed the door on that chapter of the season with a solid performance in a home-and-home series with Trail. He scored 2 goals, including the eventual game-winner, and an assist in a 5-2 victory over Trail on Friday night. Then he followed up that effort by setting up the third goal of the game in a 5-3 victory the following night to help the Cents rebound with a 2-win effort to end 2018.
The Macomb, Michigan and future University of Michigan commit, Granowicz is now back into the top 10 in BCHL scoring at 7th with 45 points, and he is 3rd in goals scored with 23 on the season.
In this his lone season of BCHL play, he has earned an honorable mention 4 times for his performance through 2018.