The Merritt Centennials and Victoria Grizzlies lock horns for the first time this season as they'll do battle at the BCHL Showcase.
A reminder for eager fans that despite being a 'home' game, the action will take place at the Prospera Centre in Chilliwack at 7pm.
The Cents and Grizzlies are rare opponents as they only see each other twice during the regular season, but last season the edge went to the Centennials. In game one of the season series in Victoria, the Centennials were able to explode in the first period for a 4-0 lead, and didn't look back from there as they ended up taking home one of their most lopsided wins of the season 6-0. The game was a coming out party for Matt Kopperud as he had his first BCHL goal, and first BCHL Gordie Howe Hat trick, registering a goal, an assist, and a fight. When the season series resumed in mid-February, the teams skated to a rare 2-2 tie. However, in both games last season the Centennials avoided facing Grizzlies phenom forward from St. John's, Newfoundland, Alex Newhook. In game one of the season series, Newhook was away at the World Junior A Challenge with Head Coach Joe Martin, and late in the season Newhook suffered an arm injury that kept him out of action. The Cents will have no such luck tonight, as Newhook is healthy and looking to impress the number of college and NHL scouts that will be in attendance. In recent draft rankings, Newhook is slated to go in the early to mid-first round of the NHL draft. Fellow teammate Riley Hughes is also a draft pick of the New York Rangers.
The Centennials come into the Showcase with plenty of momentum on their side and the reigning BCHL Player of the Week in the lineup, as Mathieu Gosselin and the Cents exploded for 19 goals over 3 games in last weeks action. The Cents won a 7-6 nail biter over the Surrey Eagles, a sound 7-5 victory over the Wenatchee Wild, and a resounding 5-2 win over the Salmon Arm Silverbacks. The Cents second line, which Gosselin centres, figured prominently in each victory as Gosselin and linemates Bradley Cocca and Brendan Schneider combined for 23 points over the 3 contests. Coming into the Showcase, the Centennials have 5 players featured in the top 10 in BCHL scoring with Gosselin and Cocca tied for first with 8 points, Schneider and Kopperud tied for second with 7 points, and Nick Wicks tied for 9th with 6 points. Despite the scoring punch, the Centennials have also started to have their defensive game round into form as the leagues highest scoring offense looks to shut the door with more frequency.
The Grizzlies have started the season 2-1. They lost their season opener 5-3 to the Powell River Kings, thumped the Alberni Valley Bulldogs 5-1, and then edged the Penticton Vees 4-3 in their home opener. Alex Campbell and Alex Newhook are tied for the team lead in points with 4, followed by Riley Hughes and Marty Westhaver with 3. The Grizzlies also had the benefit of a strong returning crop of players as they enjoy 11 returnees, and hope for a season that sees them advance farther than the Island Division Finals where they lost in 5 games to Powell River.
The special teams battle sees the Grizzlies with the edge. On the powerplay they sit 9th in the league with a 18.8% conversion rate with the Cents have improved to 13th with 13.3%. On the penalty kill the Grizzlies sit at 10th in the league with an 81.3% kill rate while the Cents are 14th with 74.3%
In net the Centennials will look for another strong performance as Austin Roden has rallied off 3 wins in a row and now sits at 3-1, but would like to see his underlying numbers improve as he sports a .868 SV% and a 4.22 GAA. However, in the last game against Salmon Arm after a shaky opening goal, Roden looked to return to the form Cents fans grew accustomed to last season and looked a lot more confident and comfortable in net. Vincent Duplessis should see some time at the Showcase as well, but hasn't seen time in the crease since the opening game of the year and sits at 0-1 with a .875 SV% and a 5.98 GAA. The Grizzlies have relied on goaltender Kurtis Chapman this year as they wait for Zachary Rose to recover from injury. Chapman is 2-1 with a .924 SV% and a 2.67 GAA.
This is has been voted the most anticipated matchup of the BCHL Bauer Showcase, and the Centennials hope they can live up to the hype, impress the scouts, but most importantly the hometown faithful who will be watching and listening for a 4th Cents win in a row.
Puck drop from the Prospera Centre in Chilliwack 7pm. Pre-Game on Q101.1FM and Q101.ca at 6:45 with Jared Thomas.