The Merritt Centennials suit up following their first win of the season, but will face who is so far the class of the Interior Division, and last year the class of the league in the Wenatchee Wild.
The Centennials looked great through 40 minutes of play on Tuesday night against the Surrey Eagles. Despite not scoring the first goal of the hockey game, something they had managed in their two previous contests, the Cents bounced back with a goal from Mathieu Gosselin. Then in the second period the Cents exploded to life scoring 4 unanswered goals throughout the period with Assistant Captain Brendan Schneider and Rylan Van Unen each netting two. With a 5-1 lead heading into the third it seemed as if things were in cruise control, but the Eagles had other plans. Surrey was able to score 5 goals in the third period, including a hat trick from Aaron White, but luckily for the Centennials their offense didn't dry up as they got two more goals, one from rookie Daniel Tkac and another from the veteran Gosselin to edge the Eagles 7-6.
The Wild have continued where they left off in the BCHL, winning hockey games with speed, skill, and special teams. In their first game of the season against the Vipers they managed to spoil the snakes home opener in large part due to their powerplay that went 3 for 4. The Wild's second game of the year came against the Eagles, and they were able to mangle the birds 6-3 including a 5 goal outburst in the second. Look out for the newcomers named Christophe. Both Christophe Tellier and Christophe Fillion have been exceptional through 2 games of play and lead the league early in points with 6 and 5 respectively.
Last season the Centennials and Wild always provided entertaining matchups, and other than a 7-3 loss during the regular season. The Cents and Wild were only ever separated by a goal. The Cents did what no other team could last season, and that's win twice in Wenatchee, however, the away team had the advantage in the season series as they captured 5/6 games. These teams also have some playoff history now after last years first round defeat. The pill made harder to swallow as the Cents were without the services of their Captain and MVP Tyrell Buckley due to a concussion. The first round wasn't kind as the Cents lost 4-0, 6-4, 5-4, and 4-1 across the 4 games, while the Wild went on to capture the Fred Page Cup as BCHL Champions.
Special teams remains a big question mark for the Centennials as discipline has been an issue for the first 3 games. The Centennials have had an extra man on the ice 21 times, but have only gotten an extra goal as a result once and have a 4.8% success rate on the powerplay. The Wild have nearly 10 times that, as they've gone 4/10 in their first two games of the season, and have also been perfect on the penalty kill so far this year, but have only been short handed 6 times. By comparison the Centennials have been shorthanded 23 times, and have allowed 6 goals for a 73.9% kill rate.
Goaltending was something the Centennials were confident about heading into the season with two returning netminders, but early on in the season the two goaltenders haven't been playing with much confidence. Vincent Duplessis was pulled from his first start of the year in the season opener in favour of Austin Roden, and is 0-1 with a .875 SV% and a 5.98 GAA. Roden has been shelled for 11 goals over the last two games and is now 1-1 with a .854 SV% and a 4.80 GAA. The Wild have returnee Austin Park who they rode to the BCHL Championship and he's 1-0 with a 4.09 GAA and a .829 SV% while newcomer Cal Sandquist is 1-0 with no goals against and a perfect save percentage on 12 shots against.
Head Coach and General Manager Joe Martin says that the Centennials will have to be a lot sharper if they expect to win against the Wild.
"These are the BCHL Champions and we can't afford to make the same kind of mistakes that we've been making in the first few games of the season against a club like the Wild."
The Centennials will see if they can get some measure of revenge for last years playoff defeat when they clash with the Wild tonight.
Puck Drop 7pm. Pre-Game 6:45 on Q101.1FM and online at Q101.ca with Jared Thomas.