The Merritt Centennials begin their Island swing and the whirlwind end to their season in Powell River tonight to take on the Kings. Including tonight, the Cents will play 10 games in 16 days, it's the perfect time to get on a run before the playoffs. The Cents did mathematically clinch a playoff spot this week, but with 16 of 17 teams in the BCHL making the first round this year it's more about how you're playing going into the elimination rounds, than the fact you made it. The Island swing back in November was the backdrop where the Centennials began to turn around their season, they came into that trip 5-10-2-0, took 5 of 6 points on the Island, and used that to go 9-5-0-1 before the Christmas break.
These teams last hooked up on January 20th, and since then the Cents have two wins, two losses, and two overtime losses. One of those overtime losses came to the Kings who got out to a steady 2-0 lead before the 3rd period. In the third, Zach Risteau and the Cents were able to take advantage of two powerplays including a 5-on-3 to tie the game and force overtime. The Kings relied on strong goaltending from AP call up Alex Rolfe, who will also get the start tonight with both Kings starting netminders injured. In Overtime, it was Kings leading scorer Ben Berard who had the heart breaker on a counter-attack breakaway.
Since the overtime win over the Cents, the Kings have hit a rough patch going 2-4 and have also had a change at head coach. Then Assistant Brock Sawyer is now bench boss, taking over from the long tenured Kent Lewis who had been with the Kings for 25 years. However, the Kings are coming off a high, as they defeated the Alberni Valley Bulldogs 4-1 in their last outting.
The Cents also bathing in that after-win glow as they beat the West Kelowna Warriors 6-3 in their last game, with a steady two-goal output across all periods. Goals hailed from Rylan Van Unen and Zach Risteau in the first Risteau and Tyrell Bucley in the second, and Brad Cocca and Brendan Schneider in the third. Joe Martin mixed up the line combinations last week, and it paid off against the Warriors. the line of Risteau, Schneider, and Zach Court combined for 7 points and every line was in on the scoring. It's that complete game effort, and complete line effort the Cents will need going down the stretch to set themselves up well for the playoffs.
The Kings continue to be led by Ben Berard up front who now has 57 points, good enough for 7th in league scoring, but he's supported by the likes of Jonny Evans (50), Carter Turnbull (43), and Kevin Obssuth (36).
On the Cents, Zach Court has the hot hand as the set up man on the newly minted line with Risteau and Schneider, and is up to 32 points on the year. Nick Wicks drives the offense on his new look line with Rylan Van Unen and Matt Kopperud with 37 points, and Henry Cleghorn continues to lead the way for the team with 44 points. It's the balanced scoring of the Cents that's their biggest threat with all players now in on the offense after Mattias Dal Monte got his first point of the year in the last game.
The special teams battle will be tight. The Kings and Cents are tied in terms of percentage on the powerplay, both converting on 18.4% of their chances. On the penalty kill, the Cents have the advantage with an 81.6% kill rate, good enough for 8th in the league. The Kings are 14th at 80.4% on the PK.
The goaltending duel will see Alex Rolfe start another game for the Kings, he picked up the win in double-OT against the Cents in their last matchup stopping 39/41 shots for a 95.1 SV% and a 2.00 GAA. Backing him up will be a midget goaltender who was forced into emergency playing time in the Kings last game after their starter was run and injured in the first period: Cam Stevenson. His save percentage also strong at 95.5% and a goals against of 1.36. The Cents will counter with their familiar tandem of Jacob Berger and Austin Roden, who is once again healthy. Berger is likely to make his 4th start in a row and is now 12-20-2-0 with a 3.30 GAA, 90.9 SV%, and 2 shutouts. Roden is 8-9-0-2 with a 2.70 GAA, 92.5 SV%, and 1 shutout on the year.
The Cents will look to put together a win streak, and it all starts with putting two back to back. They look to do so tonight against the Kings.
Puck drop 7:15, Pre-Game 7pm with Jared Thomas on Q101.1FM or online at q101.ca