The 2nd in the Interior Division Merritt Centennials (28-14-4-2) take on another division rival tonight, the 7th place Trail Smoke Eaters (18-21-7-3).
The Cents are coming off a frustrating game against the Wenatchee Wild at home. One in which their breakouts, and break-ins were constantly being turned aside by the active sticks of the Wild. The Cents were able to overcome early with a first period goal from Mathieu Gosselin, but had trouble adjusting to the game plan of the Wild. Wenatchee came back with 2 goals in the second period, before adding another in the third. Nick Granowicz would tally for the Cents to pull them within one, but there was no cardiac comeback for the Merritt Centennials who saw their point streak snapped at 11 in a row, before falling to Wenatchee 3-2 in regulation.
Merritt will have to regroup quickly against a plucky Trail club that's looking to move out of the Interior Division basement. Trail is 2-2-1 in their last 5 games while the Cents are 2-1-2. The Smokies are coming off a couple double-headers - one against the Wild, the other against the Silverbacks and they earned splits in each. They also faced the Vernon Vipers last night in what was their regular season series finale losing 6-3 against the surging Vipers who are now just a point behind the West Kelowna Warriors for 4th place in the Interior.
The Cents and Smoke Eaters have played some close games this season despite the scorelines being comfortable for the most part. Merritt is 3-0-1 against Trail this year with 4-2 and 5-3 wins at home. On the road they lost 2-1 in OT and picked up a 5-2 win just before the Christmas break.
Brad Cocca continues to lead the way for the Centennials with 55 points, but he has some new company in the 50 point plateau. With a goal and an assist in the last game, Nick Granowicz now has 51 points, and after picking up an assist on Grano's goal Nick Wicks now has 50 points. Mathieu Gosselin is just a point from making it to that level as well with 49 points. The Cents haven't had 4 scorers eclipse the 50 point mark in a season since the 05/06 season when Brandon Wong, Brandon Campos, Alan Mazur, Greg Tyshinski, and Casey Pierro-Zabotel all registered over 50 points a piece. With Matt Kopperud sitting at 42 points, there's a chance the Cents can equal that epic campaign of 12 years ago.
The Trail Smoke Eaters are led by Chase Stevenson with 45 points, Carter Jones has 43, and Trevor Zins with 39 points.
The special teams battle sees both squads struggling when short a man, but Trail holding the edge on the powerplay.
Powerplay: Penalty Kill:
Trail - 21.5% (4th) Trail - 76% (14th)
Cents - 18.5% (14th) Cents - 76.2% (13th)
The goaltending duel sees Vincent Duplessis picking up the most recent victory on Sunday, a first star performance, against the Langley Rivermen. Duplessis is 9-5-3 with a .906 SV% and a 3.21 GAA. Austin Roden is looking for a rebound and is 9-8-2 with a .903 SV% and a 3.15 GAA.
The Smoke Eaters rely on Adam Marcoux between the pipes. He's 15-21 with a .891 SV% and a 3.16 GAA. Newly acquired goalie Donovan Buskey is 1-1 with a .859 SV% and a 5.00 GAA.
Head Coach Joe Martin says Cents will need to make the most of preparations before their tilt with the Smoke Eaters.
"We've had a couple days practice to prepare for the game. We know all the steps for getting to Trail. We just need to make sure that when the puck drops, we're ready to play."
The Cents will hope the prep pays off tonight.
Puck Drop 7pm. Pre-Game 6:45 on Q101.1FM and Q101.ca with the Voice of the Cents Jared Thomas.