The Merritt Centennials (24-13-1-1) take to the road for the first time in 2019 to face the Vernon Vipers (14-16-6-3).
The Cents are coming off the most exciting game of the season against the Prince George Spruce Kings, a game that had a little bit of everything. The goalies dueled for a full 2 periods, as Austin Roden and Logan Neaton stopped all comers until 5 minutes into the 3rd. Payton Matsui scored the first goal of the New Year for the Cents by electing to keep on a 2-on-1 and rocketing a wrister top shelf. The lead didn't last long as the Spruce Kings got a 2-on-1 of their own moments later and beat Roden down low. PG would add to their lead on the powerplay to give them a 2-1 edge with just over 8 minutes to go, but the Cents wouldn't back down. In the final minute, Matt Kopperud converted out of a melee in front from a Mathieu Gosselin pass to tie the game at 2's and send it to OT. In overtime, the goaltenders shone once again to ensure the 3-on-3 segment didn't result in victory. Kopperud made good on the first shootout attempt with a nifty move between the legs to net the only goal of the shootout, as Austin Roden stared down all comers to give the Cents the thrilling shootout victory to start 2019.
The Vipers are coming off a win of their own to start 2019 against a West Kelowna Warriors club that is chasing the Cents in the standings. The snakes were able to build up an early lead and hang on. Josh Latta, Brendan Kim (2), and Coleton Bilodeau built up a 4-1 lead then survived the late push from the Warriors. The Vipers, despite their record, are a stingy team that doesn't give up many chances on home ice, and the Cents will have to play a simple road game if they want to upset the home side in game two of 2019.
The last time these two teams met was in late November in Vernon and it was the Vipers who were able to take the game 3-2. The majority of their chances came on the counter-attack as the Cents were playing a little too cute with the puck. The only goals were a deflection on the powerplay from Christian Sabin, and a no nonsense shot from Brady Ziemer off the half-wall to make things interesting late, but the Cents couldn't mount the comeback.
The Cents got a big game from Matt Kopperud who extends his points streak to 8 games, but Captain Nick Wicks' point streak was snapped at 10 games. Brad Cocca was held off the score sheet but still has a team best 50 points, but falls into a tie for 4th in BCHL scoring. Nick Granowicz picked up an assist on the game-tying goal and is 6th league-wide with 46 points, and Wicks is hanging in the top 20 at 19th with 40 points.
The Vipers are led by rookie Teddy Wooding in scoring with 28 points, Matt Kowalski has 27, and Josh Latta has 25 points.
The special teams battle sees the Vipers with the edge.
Powerplay: Penalty Kill:
Vipers - 19.7% (5th) Vipers - 83.1% (7th)
Cents - 17.7% (15th) Cents - 75.1% (16th)
Austin Roden is coming off one of his best performances of the year, and could get his 2nd start in a row. He's now 16-7 with a .898 SV% and a 3.27 GAA with 1 shutout. Vincent Duplessis is 8-5-2 with a .901 SV% and a 3.31 GAA. Vernon now has two goalies they can rely on. Aiden Porter is 9-14 with a .903 SV% and a 2.86 GAA and 3 shutouts. Bradley Cooper is 5-10 with a .919 SV%, a 2.22 GAA and 3 shutouts as well.
Head Coach Joe Martin knows that the Vipers despite their spot in the standings are still a talented club.
"They've lost a couple players to major-junior, they've made a few more moves this year than usual, but they're still really sound defensively and have been in a lot of tight games this year."
The Cents will hope to put their talent on display and stay perfect in 2019.
Puck drop 6pm at Kal Tire Place. Pre-Game 5:45 on Q101.1FM and Q101.ca with Jared Thomas.