The Merritt Centennials are set to host the Penticton Vees tonight, and are set to honor the Humboldt Broncos, First Responders, and long-time bus driver Steve Rose in a pre-game ceremony.
Puck drop will be at 7pm, but fans and families are encouraged to come out early from 6pm onward to check out the team bus, first responder vehicles, and Toby Forrest's Humboldt Broncos themed local stock car. The first fans to enter the NVMA will be treated to Humboldt Strong stickers as they last, can get a first look at a Humboldt Broncos jersey that will be available through a raffle all season, and can bid on a Centennials team signed stick.
There is also a hockey game going on and the Centennials hope to get back in the win column against a struggling Penticton Vees club. The Cents sit tied for first in the Interior with a 4-3 record, while the Vees sit 7th at 2-3. The Cents last outing was a loss in their BCHL Showcase finale to the Langley Rivermen. During that contest they ran into a hot goaltender, and some bad puck luck as shots destined for the back of the net were hitting posts or pads, and glorious chances in the slot hopped over sticks. Despite goals from Nick Granowicz and Christian Sabin, the Cents were overcome 4-2 and had their win streak halted at 4 in a row.
Last season the Cents couldn't muster a win over the Vees as despite many close games, and games in which they led, they went 0-6. The biggest loss came at the SOEC where the Cents faltered 4-1, but the Vees and Cents skated to 3 one goal contests last year.
The perennial contender Penticton Vees are off to their worst start in 9 years dating all the way back to their 2010-11 season where they started 3-3. The Vees started the season going 1-2 on the Island road swing with a season opening loss to Langley, followed by a win against Cowichan, but finished with a loss against Victoria. They followed that up with a split at the Showcase topping Surrey 4-1, and falling to Prince George in their most recent contest 3-2. Along with being at the bottom of the Interior Division, the Vees are also at the bottom of the league in terms of scoring with 15 goals for, however, they have played 2 fewer games than the Cents. Penticton has made some moves this week looking to get more experience in the lineup: they acquired Andre Ghantous from the Alberni Valley Bulldogs for Ryan Miotto, Henry Shreifels and future considerations, and they also added Brendan Harrogate from the OHL. Ghantous provided 44 points in 58 games played last season while Harrogate had 25 points in 54 games played for the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL.
Leading the way for the Cents this season are 2nd year forwards Brad Cocca, Mathieu Gosselin and Matthew Kopperud. Cocca seems to be the set up man on the Cents second line with 1 goal and 8 assists while Gosselin is the finisher with 5 goals and 3 assists. Kopperud is fresh off a commitment to Arizona State University and the Sun Devils, and has anchored the third line but also enjoyed his time on the powerplay for 4 goals and 4 assists. Newcomer Nick Granowicz has been a welcome addition with 3 goals and 5 assists and appears to be adjusting to the BCHL game. All told the Centennials has 6 skaters scoring at a point-per-game pace when you add in Brendan Schneider and Nick Wicks.
The Vees have gotten a solid return in off-season acquisition David Silye: he leads the team in points with 9. He's complimented by Ryan Sandelin with 5 points and Lukas Sillinger, James Miller, and Mason Snell who all have 4.
The Centennials have started to improve in their special teams numbers, and they'll have some company in the Penticton Vees in looking to continue to improve. The Cents and Vees are tied on the powerplay conversion rate at 13.6% and sit at 11 and 12. The Penalty kill sees the Cents with the advantage at 12th in the league with 78.3% while the Vees are 15th with a 75% kill rate.
The goaltending battle leaves both teams wanting a little bit more. Austin Roden has the most wins out of both teams with a 4-1 record a 3.64 GAA and a .885 SV%. Vincent Duplessis is 0-2 but sports the same save percentage as his teammate at .885 SV% and a 4.03 GAA. The Vees have leaned on newcomer Jack Lafontaine so far between the pipes as he's started 4 of 5 games, but sits at 2-2 with a 2.77 GAA and a .883 SV%. Derek Krall is 0-1 with an .800 SV% and a 4.10 GAA.
Head Coach Joe Martin says that maintaining the high level of play the Cents have started with will be key to topping the Vees.
"Right now we're playing good hockey... We just have to at least match what we've been doing lately and we'll have a good chance."
The Cents will hope for more good hockey, and another good result tonight versus the Penticton Vees.
Puck Drop 7pm, Pre-Game 6:45 on Q101.1FM and online at q101.ca with Jared Thomas.