The 1st place in the Interior Division Merritt Centennials (11-7) take on their nearest challenger the Penticton Vees (8-5-0-2) tonight.
The Cents are coming off a week where they went 2-1 with wins over the Salmon Arm Silverbacks, and a split against the Wenatchee Wild. Last Wednesday the Cents earned their first shutout of the season with stand out play from Austin Roden to win 5-0. In the first of two against the Wild, the Cents overcame a slow start to finish strong. Nick Granowicz put the team on his back during the final frame scoring twice to tie the game and then scoring the game-winner for a hat trick in overtime 4-3. However, in game 2 against the Wild the Cents couldn't get their legs going, were outworked by the Wild, and got shelled 6-1. Head Coach Joe Martin said it was a cautionary tale of what can happen if you don't show up to play.
The Vees have already been in action this week and fell 3-2 in a shootout against the Coquitlam Express. Brendan Harrogate had a two-goal game for the Vees, and Christian Sanda and Chase Danol answered for the Express. Danol was the lone scorer in the shootout, and the Vees suffered their 3rd loss in 5 games.
First periods have been the undoing of the Cents against the Vees. So far this season they have gone 0-2 against Penticton falling 6-3 in late September and 6-2 in mid-October. In both games the Cents have failed to register a goal in the first period and have allowed 7 against. Getting out of the first period in a draw, or within one could be considered a minor victory.
The Cents will continue to rely on their top guns. Brad Cocca is now second in the league with 25 points, Nick Granowicz is 5th league-wide with 23 points, and Mathieu Gosselin is 8th with 20 points.
The Vees are led by David Silye who's 6th in league scoring with 22 points. Eric Linell has 18, and defenseman James Miller provides some scoring from the back end with 14 points this year.
The special teams battle sees the Vees with the edge. They're 12th on the powerplay with a 16.5% conversion rate and 9th on the penalty kill at 82.5%. The Cents penalty kill is improving at 77..2% but are 15th in the league, and with the extra man they're 15.9% for 14th in the league.
In net the Cents are starting to heat up. Roden is 8-4 with a 3.53 GAA and a .893 SV% and 1 shutout. Vincent Duplessis hasn't seen the crease for 5 games as the Cents rode the red hot Roden, but is 3-3 with a 3.57 GAA and a .885 SV%. The Vees are getting solid performances from Jack LaFontaine who is 6-4 with a .915 SV%, a 2.00 GAA and 2 shutouts. Derek Krall is 2-1 with a .902 SV% and a 2.46 GAA.
Head Coach Joe Martin knows that this game could be won or lost in the first period.
"I think the first is important. We've dug deep holes in the last two games against the Vees and haven't been able to get out of them. If we have a strong first we will take it from there."
Tonight fans are encouraged to wear pink to support breast cancer. Everyone who wears pink will get a free entry into a raffle for a one of a kind Cents breast cancer jersey, but fans are also encouraged to buy tickets: 1 for $2 and 3 for $5.
Puck Drop 7pm. Pre-Game 6:45 on Q101.1FM or q101.ca with Jared Thomas.