The Merritt Centennials (3rd Int/21-13-1-1) take the long road to face the Trail Smoke Eaters (6th Int/14-17-5-3) tonight, in the first of a home-and-home series in the final weekend of BCHL action of 2018.
The Centennials will look to improve from last weekends events as the team lost both contests and was held pointless during a week of play for the first time in a long time. The Cents started off the weekend in West Kelowna to face the Warriors, and couldn't muster any offense until the third period. Down by a score of 3-0, the Cents came back to tie, but couldn't keep pushing after that and fell 6-3. The following night at home against the Powell River Kings the Cents got into a powerplay battle with the top team in the league, and actually came away with the edge in special teams goals, but at even strength the team didn't do enough defensively and fell by a score of 6-5.
The Trail Smoke Eaters are coming off a pair of wins against some of the top contenders in the Interior Division, and aren't a team to be taken lightly despite their record. They are a handful on home ice, in part because of the travel teams have to undertake to get their, but also because of the support they get from the hometown crowd. They handled the Penticton Vees by a score of 3-2 last weekend, and during a mid-week match up managed to top the streaking Wenatchee Wild and ended their win streak at 9 games by a score of 5-2.
The last time these two teams met was back in mid-November where the Cents also played them back to back, however, the games were separated by a week not just a day. The home teams have won both games in the season series. The Centennials handled the Smoke Eaters 4-2 when they visited the NVMA, but a week later the Smokies shut down the Cents with a 2-1 OT win. Brad Cocca scored the Cents lone goal in the third period to send the game to extra time and Vincent Duplessis had a goal get across the line, but not past him for the OT winner.
Tonight's match will feature the return of bronze medalists at the World Junior A Challenge, Mathieu Gosselin and Head Coach Joe Martin. Gosselin picked up a goal and 2 assists through the tournament in his first time representing Canada on the International stage. Coach Martin adds a bronze medal to his collection which includes a gold from last years tournament.
The Centennials top guns will need to feature prominently, but the Cents will also have to focus on defense a week after allowing 6 goals in each game. Brad Cocca paces the team and is 3rd in the league with 48 points. Nick Granowicz has busted his mini-slump at 6 games with a goal the last time out and is 11th league wide with 41 points. Mathieu Gosselin and Nick Wicks are tied at 37 points and are both in the top 20 in BCHL scoring.
The Smoke Eaters are led by early-season acquisition Chase Stevenson who has 32 points. Carter Jones has 31, and Captain Braeden Tuck has 29 points.
After the game against Powell River, the Cents powerplay got a boost, but their penalty kill took a hit. The Smokies hold the edge in both categories:
Powerplay: Penalty Kill:
Trail - 19.4% (8th) Trail - 76.6% (14th)
Cents - 17.8% (13th) Cents - 75.3% (17th)
In net the Centennials are looking for a rebound with both goalies coming off losses. Austin Roden is 14-7 with a .897 SV%, a 3.35 GAA, and 1 shutout. Vincent Duplessis is 7-5-2 with a .902 SV% and a 3.39 GAA. For the Smoke Eaters, Adam Marcoux has been the work horse this season. Marcoux is 12-17 with a .896 SV% and a 3.05 GAA. Tanner Marshall is 2-4 with a .884 SV% and a 3.22 GAA.
Assistant Coach Brandon Shaw knows that this will be a game that both teams will be hungry for ahead of the Christmas break.
"Whenever you play a team back to back, you know there's going to be bad blood. We're hoping to regroup after last weekend, and put our best foot forward to end the year."
The Cents will look to sate their hunger with a win tonight.
Puck Drop 7pm. Pre-Game 6:45 on Q101.1FM and Q101.ca with Jared Thomas.