The 6th seeded Merritt Centennials boarded the bus early for a matchup tonight against the 3rd seeded Wenatchee Wild for the first game of round 1 action in the BCHL playoffs.
The season series has been close considering the difference in seeding, and these teams have played some very entertaining games against eachother. Throughout the season, the Cents went 2-3-0-1 against the Wenatchee Wild.
They first met on the first weekend of the season, despite 2 early goals by the Cents the Wild roared back and won 5-3.
Game 2 saw the Cents go down to Wenatchee and pick up their first road win of the year, a 3-2 nail biter where Jacob Berger had to come up huge, and the Cents had to defend against the waves of Wild offense.
The third installment was the only lopsided contest of the year, despite the Cents leading 3-2 early in the second, the Wild came back with 4 unanswered and won 7-3.
In early December, the Cents and Wild skated to a 3-all tie late into the 3rd before Jasper Weatherby scored a late heart breaker to give the Wild the 4-3 edge.
Then came a double-header down in Wenatchee in late January which may be the most accurate preview of these first two games of the playoffs. The Cents and Wild skated to a 2-1 double overtime thriller in game 1, with Zach Court tying the game in the final minute before Weatherby got the dagger in OT. In game 2, the Cents were in the driver seat for the majority of the game and scored 3 before the Wild tried to climb back but fell short 3-2.
Wenatchee has been the top team at home in the BCHL this season going 24-4-1-0, but of those 4 losses, two of them came to the Merritt Centennials, and that should give fans hope heading into these first two games. The goal differential in the season series was 21-16 in favour of the Wild, but if you take out that 7-3 game, it becomes just a one-goal edge for the Wild 14-13. The matchup on paper is a lot closer than you’d believe.
The Cents will have to be wary of the offensive prowess of the WIld, they boast the top scoring forward and defenseman in the league as well as the top scoring offense overall. Jasper Weatherby finished the season with 74 points, Cooper Zech was the top defenseman with 69 points, AJ Vanderbeck their Captain is no slouch in the scoring department tying Weatherby with 37 goals, and they have secondary threats like Lucas Sowder (60) and Sam Morton (54) Any of those players would be the leading scorer on the Centennials, but the Wild play a very different game style than the Cents.
Merritt hasn’t been slouches in the offensive department either, and with points in 7 straight games before a loss in a mean nothing game to end the season, the Wild have to have some healthy respect. Henry Cleghorn paced the attack with 48 points, Nick Wicks is one of the premier play makers on the team and finished with 46. Zach Zorn finished with the most game winning goals and tied with Cleghorn for the most goals on the team with 20 along with 22 assists. Zach Court (41), Brendan Schneider (36), and Zach Risteau (20) had a strong finish playing on a line together. The biggest hole will be felt on the back end as the Cents will try and play on without the services of their Captain Tyrell Buckley who took a hit late in the season that will keep him out of the early games in this series with concussion symptoms.
The special teams matchup heading in is very close as well. The Wild were close to the top in both categories all season, but finished 3rd in each. Their powerplay 21.1%, and their penalty kill 85.2%. The Cents saw a strong rebound at the end of the season, and their powerplay finished 5th at 19.8% while their penalty kill finished 4th at 84.6%.
In net, the wins and losses favour the Wild, but some of the underlying stats favour the Cents goaltenders. The Wild will look to Seth Eisele and Austin Park. Eisele is the only goaltender the Cents have seen this season and is 20-11 with an 88.7 SV%, a 2.64 GAA and 3 shutouts. Park is 16-9 with an 88.7 SV% and a 2.78 GAA. The Cents will turn to the same tandem that’s gotten them where they are to finish the season. Jacob Berger has the lion’s share of starts this season by virtue of being here all year and is 13-22-2-0 with a 90.5 SV%, a 3.45 GAA, and 2 shutouts. He also has the experience of guiding the team through the playoff run last year in high pressure situations. Austin Roden has proved himself more than capable throughout the season, and down the home stretch going 12-9-2-3 with a 93.1 SV%, a 2.40 GAA, and 2 shutouts. The Cents will have a decision on their hands.
That’s the story going into game one, but once the puck drops all those stats get thrown out the window.
Puck Drop 7pm, Pre-Game 6:45 with Jared Thomas on Q101.1FM or online at q101.ca.