The Merritt Centennials and Langley Rivermen meet for the first time this season tonight, and for the second year in a row that first meeting will happen at the BCHL Showcase.
Last season it was the Rivermen who edged the Cents in the first game of the showcase winning 4-3, but the Centennials got revenge later on in the season at home with a 4-1 win. The Cents closed their season out against Langley last season, but the game was a bit of a wash as the Cents had a billet house burn down, were without the services of their Captain Tyrell Buckley, and had already secured the top possible playoff berth.
Needless to say today's afternoon match up will have different undertones than last years clash at the Showcase. The Cents are 4-2 to start the year where last year they came in to the Showcase sporting a 0-4 record, and the Rivermen added to their woes. The Cents have one of the healthiest crop of returning players in the BCHL with 14, comparatively the Rivermen have 11 players who wil suit up once again. The Cents boast the leagues top offense, where last season they were struggling to score goals. The Rivermen are in the middle of the pack in regards to offense, but defensively have better numbers than the Cents and sit 3rd in the league with only 12 goals allowed. However, the Cents just pulled off their most impressive defensive effort of the season holding the Victoria Grizzlies to a late goal and protecting a lead for 55 minutes of the game.
The Cents roll into this one with momentum on their side. Winners of four straight, the Cents aim to keep the streak alive against a Rivermen squad that has been up and down to start the season. After winning their opener against the Penticton Vees and following that up with another win against Coquitlam, the Rivermen dropped two to the Chilliwack Chiefs before getting back in the win column in their first game of the Showcase against Trail. The Rivermen are led by young returnee Ethan Leyh, who has 4 points, but have a pretty balanced attack as rookies Mark Gallant and Chase Pletzke are tied with many others with 3 points a piece.
The Cents sit atop the Interior Division in the early season, and look to their improved defensive play to help them stay there. In their last game against the Grizzlies, the Cents were able to shut down phenom Alex Newhook, and stymie the Victoria offense through 59 minutes of the game. However, they still had enough offense from Matt Kopperud on the powerplay, and Nic Granowicz finishing a great passing play with line mates Nick Wicks and Rylan Van Unen in the first. Brad Cocca picked up another point to continue to be in the running for the league lead in points, but now trails Lucas Sowder of the Wild by one with 9, Mathieu Gosselin and Matt Kopperud are two off the pace with 8 points.
The Rivermen have the edge in the special teams battle and are 7th on the powerplay with a 22.2% conversion rate, and 9th on the penalty kill with a 80% kill rate. The Cents are steadily improving in both categories and are now 11th with the man advantage with 14.7% and 14th on the PK with 76.9%
In net, the Centennials will turn to Vincent Duplessis for the first time since the season opener. He is 0-1 with a .875 SV% and a 5.98GAA. The Rivermen have seen both their net minders get into action. Braedon Fleming is 3-1 with a .931 SV% and a 1.75 GAA and 1 shutout. Alex Rolfe is 0-1 with a .911 SV% and a 4.00GAA.
Head Coach and General Manager Joe Martin says that the team needs to keep trusting the process.
"The leadership group is doing a great job of keeping the guys focused on the day to day, keeping things light, and staying in the moment."
The Cents will hope for another victory moment following the game this afternoon and continue their hot streak.
Puck Drop 4:30, Pre-Game 4:15 on Q101.1FM and Q101.ca from rink 2 at the Prospera Centre with Jared Thomas.