It's a battle of the top two teams in the Interior Division as the Merritt Centennials (31-15-4-3) take on the Penticton Vees (34-14-3-2) tonight.
The Merritt Centennials are coming off a busy week where they played 4 games in 5 nights, including 3 in 3 on the Island Road Swing.
The Cents started the week off against the Coquitlam Express at home last Wednesday and were able to reignite their offense while getting solid goaltending for the 5-0 win. Austin Roden stopped 40 shots on his way to the shutout, and the Cents got goals from Nick Wicks, Brad Cocca (2), Matthew Kopperud, and Brendan Schneider. It was just the Cents 2nd shutout victory this season, the only other coming against the Salmon Arm Silverbacks by the same score of 5-0.
The Dad's Trip and Island Swing started on Friday night against the Powell River Kings and the Cents got through a rough game and pulled out the 5-3 victory. Vincent Guy, Matt Kopperud, Christian Sabin, and Brad Cocca tallied for the Cents before Nick Granowicz iced the game with an empty netter.
Against the Nanaimo Clippers the Cents survived a sleepy first period with no scoring before storming out to a 4 goal second period on the way to another 5-3 win. The Cents got goals from Nick Granowicz, Matt Kopperud (2), Brady Ziemer, and Payton Matsui in the win.
The road trip concluded against the top Island team the Victoria Grizzlies and the Cents ran out of gas. Alex Newhook who only had 1 assist against the Centennials coming in exploded for 3 goals and an assist, while Christian Sabin was the only one who managed to score for the Centennials unassisted in the 4-1 loss.
The Cents have had a long week to stare down a couple key Interior Division match ups this weekend, but the first order of business is the first place Penticton Vees. They lead the Cents by 4 points in the standings and tonight's game will go a long way to determining who will finish top in the division. After this game, both teams will have 4 games remaining on the schedule with 3 of those coming against Interior Division rivals and the Langley Rivermen.
Merritt is looking for an effort that's seen them come to the razor's edge in the last two match ups to beating the Vees. Both games have gone to the shootout, and both games have been taken by the Vees. Merritt lost 4-3 in the shootout in November before the latest marathon shootout that went 10 rounds on January 20th at the NVMA. The Cents led 1-0 all the way down to the final minute off a goal from Brad Cocca in the 2nd period, but Cassidy Bowes came back to tie it in the dying seconds to send it to OT. Overtime solved nothing, and the teams skated through 10 shooters before the Vees finally came away with the victory.
Penticton is coming off a 3-2 loss to the Trail Smoke Eaters in overtime on Wednesday night and are 2-1-2 in their last 5, while the Cents are looking to get back in the win column after a 4-1 loss and are 3-1-1 in their last 5.
Brad Cocca is coming of an honorable mention in the BCHL player of the week and has 62 points. Nick Granowicz and Nick Wicks are tied at 19th and 20th in the league with 54 points.
The Vees are led from the back end by James Miller. The defenseman leads the team with 59 points, Eric Linell has 55 points, and David Silye has 54 points.
The special teams battle sees the Penticton Vees with the edge:
Powerplay: Penalty Kill:
Pen - 19.4% (10th) Pen - 81.3% (8th)
Cents - 19% (12th) Cents - 77.4% (12th)
In net Austin Roden continues to be the guy with Vincent Duplessis out with injury. Roden went 3/4 last week and is now 22-8-3 with a .907SV%, a 3.04 GAA, and 2 shutouts. Affiliate Jackson Glassford will once again serve as the back up.
Jack Lafontaine has been the go to guy in Penticton. He's now 27-12 with a .920 SV%, a 2.26 GAA, and 2 shutouts. Derek Krall has gotten some work in and is 7-5 with a .896 SV% and a 2.75 GAA.
Head Coach Joe Martin knows that the Cents will need to focus on themselves against Penticton.
"Coming into the game there's just been those 5 minute stretches where we lose our game. We need to focus on ourselves and make sure we're playing our way, and we can win this one."
The Centennials hope to focus through the 60 minutes to pick up the 2 points tonight.
Puck Drop 7pm. Pre-Game 6:45 on Hockey TV and Q101.ca with Jared Thomas.