The first game back from the Christmas break, the last game of 2017, and the Merritt Centennials look to finish it off right against a plucky Coquitlam Express squad.
The Express come into Merritt the 5th team in the Mainland Division, and the 16th ranked team in the league at 7-24-1-2, but since making a coaching change in mid November have begun to turn it around under new head coach Jason Fortier. In December they're 4-3 with wins coming over good competition: Victoria, Vernon, Langley, and Powell River (all those teams top, or very close to in their respective divisions).
The Cents look to finish off the year above .500 for the first time this season as they sit 6th in the Interior Division and 13th in the leage at 15-15-2-1. It's been a long road back after starting the season 0-6, but a strong December has the Centennials in a position to get on the winning side of the ledger. Merritt has gone 5-2 so far this month, with their last win coming against the Nanaimo Clippers 4-2.
The Express are led by Eric Linell offensively with 18 goals and 32 points. Alex Ambrosio (25), Sam Kozlowski (19), Joshua Wildauer (17), and Christian Sanda (15) round out the top 5.
The Cents continue to be led by Henry Cleghorn, but he's now joined by Zach Zorn as both players have 33 points. Nick Wicks (25), Tyrell Buckley (22), and Mathieu Gosselin (20) round out the top 5, and the Cents now have 13 skaters above the 10 point plateau.
The special teams match up should be in favour of the Centennials. The Cents 9th on the powerplay with an 18.8% conversion rate, while the Express are 2nd last at 12.1%. The penalty kill sees the Cents in 7th with an 82.4% kill rate, while the Express are 15th in the league at 78.1%.
The Express turn to the goaltending tandem of Brock Hamm and Reid Cooper. Hamm is 4-7-0-1 with a 91.2 SV% and a 3.15 GAA while Cooper is 1-9-0-1 with a 90.5 SV% and a 3.94 GAA.
With this being the lone game of the weekend the Cents have to decide between Jacob Berger and Austin Roden. Berger has carried the load so far for the Cents seeing action in 25 games and going 10-13-2-0 with a 91.1 SV%, a 3.25 GAA and 2 Shutouts. Roden has been phenomenal since being acquired by the Cents going 4-1-0-1 with a 93.9 SV% and a 2.64 GAA.
Assistant Coach Matt Samson says that the Express shouldn't be taken lightly.
"Since they made their coaching change the team is playing a lot better. They're not getting blown out anymore, and they've surprised some teams."
The Cents will try to avoid being surprised by the Express tonight.
Puck Drop at 7pm, Pre Game at 6:45 with Jared Thomas on Q101.1 FM or online at q101.ca.