The Centennials are in Penticton tonight to take on a Vees squad who sits in the middle of the pack of the crowded Interior Division. The 1st place Vipers sit 6 points clear of the pack following them. The Wenatchee Wild, Trail Smoke Eaters, and Penticton Vees all seperated by just a point, and the Centennials looking to get back to .500 once again, currently sitting in 6th.
The Penticton Vees and Centennials haven't met since mid-October, and in that game Brad Cocca, just newly acquired, got the Cents on the board in the second with a powerplay goal, the Vees answered early in the third before Rylan Van Unen replied to regain the lead. The Vees would get two more in quick succession to overcome the Cents 4-2. So far the Cents have yet to top their arch rival from Penticton going 0-3, the other losses a 3-2 OT loss at home, and a 4-2 loss in the season opener.
The Vees have gone through a metamorphisis since the last time these two teams have played. Greg Brydon, defenseman, retired from hockey, the Vees signed Jordan Henderson, who they acquired from the Cents, they signed Ocean Wiesblatt and Michael Campoli from the NCAA, they traded big defenseman Joseph Leahy for big forward Marcus Mitchell, and more recently signed Wyatt Sloboshan from the WHL, and added James Miller. Plus they'll have Captain Owen Sillinger back after serving a two-game suspension and Chris Klack will return from injury. Injuries left the Vees decimated for a while, but as they get healthy they are deeper than when they started the season.
The Cents on the other hand have gone through very few changes since mid-October, they acquired Austin Roden from the Nanaimo Clippers, but have been content to let chemistry build amongst their group. However, they did make some moves on Monday, trading Jack Vincent to the Janesville Jets of the NAHL and re-acquiring leading goal scorer from last season Zach Risteau. Risteau had 50 points in 53 regular season games with the Cents, and added 3 goals and 1 assist in the playoff push. Newcomer Risteau has been practicing on a line with Brad Cocca, and Rylan Van Unen, and we could see that to start the game.
The Cents are coming off a 4-2 victory over the Salmon Arm Silverbacks which snapped a 3 game losing skid since the Christmas break, Matthieu Gosselin had two powerplay goals, Zach Zorn and Brendan Schneider had the others. Zorn and Henry Cleghorn continue to lead the way for the Cents with 35 points each, but the Cents now have 8 players over 20 points including 3 rookies: Gosselin, Schneider, and Ashton Stockie.
The Vees are coming off 2 wins at home, and are in the midst of a 4 game homestand. They're led offensively by Owen Sillinger (37), defenseman Nicky Leiverman (29), Taylor Ward (27) and Dakota Boutin (26).
The special teams matchup sees the Vees with the edge, tops in the league on the penalty kill at 88%, and 4th on the powerplay at 21.3%. The Cents meanwhile are 9th in both categories, 18.2% on the powerplay with two goals in their last game, and 82% on the penalty kill. Zach Risteau might provide some help to the powerplay unit, as last season he scored 11 powerplay goals along with 10 powerplay assists, for nearly half his point total.
Adam Scheel of the Vees continues to be one of the league leaders in net. 16-9-0-2 with a 2.03 GAA and a 93.3 SV%, however the Cents have seen their fair share of Nolan Hildebrand this season. He's 8-2 with a 90.8 SV% and a 2.60 GAA. Merritt will turn to Jacob Berger in the crease tonight, his last start was a hard fought loss to the Vernon Vipers in which he allowed only one goal to the top team in the BCHL. Berger is now 10-15-2-0 with a 91 SV% and a 3.22 GAA.
Head Coach Joe Martin says that the Cents will have to look past the distractions.
"There's going to be some minds wandering before the game, but we'll have a talk about the focus being on the 2 points that are on the line against the Vees, and we can't afford to worry about the trade deadline."
The Cents will focus on getting those 2 points against one of their biggest rivals tonight.
Puck drop at 7pm, Pre-game at 6:45 with Jared Thomas on Q101.1FM or online at q101.ca.
The CJHL Prospects game will have a Merritt connection.
Although no players were named to the Junior A top prospect game, the Centennials GM and Coach Joe Martin will be behind the bench.
Martin says that this isn't your typical All-Star Game.
"These young kids are draft eligible players, the team is being picked by Central Scouting, it's full of NHL scouts, and the idea is to get the players to compete extremely hard, and focus on being on the players they are, not the skilled all-star NHL format fans are used to seeing."
Martin adds that he won't get much time to implement strategy with only one meeting before the game to get the players to compete.
"Collectively, if they can help eachother in that game, it will help their own stake when it comes to an NHL tryout or the draft."
The CJHL Prospects game will be January 23rd in Mississauga, Ontario.
In another move made on Monday, the Merritt Centennials are welcoming back some familiar firepower to the lineup.
The Cents have acquired Zach Risteau from his sojourn in the USHL. This season he got into 19 games with the Central Illinois Flying Aces contributing 5 points, but last year he led the Cents in scoring with 50 points in 53 games.
Head Coach and General Manager Joe Martin says Risteau is the kind of player the Centennials were looking to add.
"He finished the year with us last year, had a good scoring season, so we're here to bring him back, and hopefully add some more offense to our to team, but also make us a bit deeper."
Martin added that they may not be done yet with one roster spot open, and two cards remaining.
"We're listening, and we're inquiring. It doesn't mean that we're going to do something. If it's the right move, we'll do it."
Risteau is in Merritt, and will be ready for Wednesday nights game against the Penticton Vees.
The Cents announced a move today, Jack Vincent will be joining the Janesville Jets of the North American Hockey League.
Vincent compiled 5 goals and 4 assists in 30 games so far this season, his first with the Cents. He spent the majority of his time at centre.
Head Coach Joe Martin says he was happy to accomodate Vincent's request.
"Jack is a great player, but at centre we felt we had a lot of depth, and Jack saw the writing on the wall. He wanted to go somewhere he might get a little more opportunity."
The move comes with the trade deadline looming on Wednesday, January 10th.
For the first time in 2018, the Cents can call themselves victorious. Granted there's only been 3 games since the Christmas break, the Cents didn't want to stretch this streak out any further, and proved it with their pace and determination throughout 60 minutes in the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena on Saturday night against the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.
The night started with the Cents getting their first lead of 2018, after Matt Kopperud was sprung on a partial breakaway by Zach Zorn, he did the heavy lifting cutting to the net, and forcing Kyle Dumba to make a huge save that had him down and out, and Zorn used his nose for the net and found the loose puck and put it in the open net.
The Cents weren't done there as later in the period they found themselves on the powerplay, and they got another first, their first powerplay goal of 2018, and it couldn't have been prettier. A Sedinery style slap-pass from Mike Van Unen to Matthieu Gosselin that he fluttered into the shortside corner over a perplexed Dumba to make it 2-0, and that's how the Cents would skate into the 2nd.
In the second, the Centennials were awarded another powerplay early, and Gosselin was awarded another goal, this time after some tenacious play in front by him and his linemates Henry Cleghorn and Chase Bell. They battled in front, recovered the puck behind the net, and then found Gosselin in the slot who tapped it home for his second on the night, both on the powerplay.
However, the Silverbacks would mount the comeback, and it would start on a weird one from Justin Wilson who took a short side shot on Austin Roden, who got the start for the Cents, it looked like Roden made the initial save, but when he readjusted the puck slid across the line to make it 3-1.
The Silverbacks got another one from Tanner Campbell later in the period to make it 3-2 heading into the third.
The Cents didn't sit back in the third, but didn't get any separation until 1:30 remaining when Nick Wicks broke across the blue line on the counter attack with Brendan Schneider. Wicks deked to the right, but feathered a backhand pass onto the tape of Schneider who tapped it past Dumba to make it 4-2.
After the game, Head Coach Joe Martin credited the boys for their mental toughness.
"You know it's tough when you have everyone asking, "when are you going to win one." And yeah, it was only 3 games, but that stuff starts to get on your nerves, so give them credit they came ready to play tonight and got the win."
Cents next play on Wednesday, January 10th against the Penticton Vees where they'll look for their first win against their archrivals this season.