The Merritt Centennials make the long road trip north to battle the Prince George Spruce Kings in their 3rd Exhibition game tonight.
The Centennials went 1-2 against the Spruce Kings last year with each team taking a victory at home and Prince George besting the Cents at the showcase. However, all the games were tightly contested with both of the Spruce Kings wins coming by one-goal margins, one of them in overtime. The Centennials win at home was the largest, a 5-2 victory.
The Spruce Kings are coming off a season when they went all the way to the Fred Page Cup Finals, but were only bested by the same team that defeated the Centennials in playoff action: the Wenatchee Wild. Many would expect a deep run in the playoffs to involve players that were in their final year with the BCHL, but the Spruce Kings will have plenty of returning firepower. Up front forwards Ben Brar, Dustin Manz, Patrick Cozzi, and Ben Poisson who were among the teams leading scorers are all returning. On the back end standouts like Liam Watson Braun, Layton Ahac, and Dylan Anhorn will all be back for another go round. This Spruce Kings club hasn't taken many steps back in the off season, and this home at home series against the Centennials will be their first opportunity to see what kind of club they have for 2017-18.
The Centennials are fresh off a couple games against the Vernon Vipers this weekend, and the results weren't what the team was hoping for dropping both in tight decisions. The exhibition opener at home saw the Cents fall 3-1, and the follow up game in Vernon resulted in a 2-1 loss. However, in those losses the Cents goaltending looked sharp, they outshot the Vipers 90-59 over the two games, they drove play, and the chemistry is slowly starting to build in the lineup.
Tonight's match up will mark the first with the new signings, and Head Coach and General Manager Joe Martin is looking for the team to come together.
"We like our group. It's important to us to start gelling right away and become even better as a team."
The only change to the lineup tonight will be the loss of Daniel Tkac to injury, and the return of Josh Van Unen to Shawnigan Lake. As a result, Colten Gerlib will line up as a winger, but could also see time cycling through as a defenseman.
Austin Roden will get the start in net, and so far through preseason he has proven tough to beat allowing only 1 goal through the two half games he has played.
The game will be available online on HockeyTV, with the puck set to drop for 7pm.