The Merritt Centennials (33-15-4-3) lock horns with another Interior Division foe, the West Kelowna Warriors (27-27-0-1) tonight.
The Cents are coming off a weekend where they went 2 for 2 against two Interior Division teams. First up were arch-rival Penticton, and for the first time in nearly 2 years the Cents marched into Penticton and picked up a victory 4-2. Daniel Tkac broke the game open with a steal and a snipe to make it 1-0 after 1 period of play. Rylan Van Unen added insult to injury when he dangled in on a penalty shot and beat LaFontaine blocker side. Nick Granowicz showed no mercy on a move in tight to the forehand high-glove on Derek Krall who came in to replace LaFonatine to make it 3-1 after 2. Matt Kopperud added an early powerplay marker in the third before the Vees came storming back, but Austin Roden held them to just a single goal on 30 shots in the 3rd and stopped 53/55 overall in the winning effort.
The following night against Trail the Cents showed their resilience to the physical game, and their resilience to come back on the scoreboard in a 6-4 win. Trail opened the scoring but the Cents answered with a deflection goal from Brendan Schneider before Trail regained the lead 2-1 before the first was over. Nick Granowicz converted a slap-pass from Mathieu Gosselin to tie the game at 2 early in the 2nd period, but again Trail would regain the lead. Matt Kopperud would level the game at 3's with a head scratching goal that would last until the buzzer after 40. In the third, the Cents got their first lead of the game from a deflection by Payton Matsui, but again the Smoke Eaters tied it at 4. On a powerplay midway through the 3rd, Granowicz converted on another PP, this time by finding a soft spot in the slot, and then firing top corner. Captain Nick Wicks would add an empty netter to ensure victory late in the third.
Tonight's meeting is a clash of the two most offensive clubs in the Interior Division. The Cents lead the division with 209 goals for on the season, and West Kelowna is 2nd with 201. However, it's a clash of two teams that are heading in different directions. There was a time when West Kelowna was duking it out with Merritt for top spot in the division, or hot on their heels, but West K has lost 4 of it's last 5 and have fallen to 6th in the division with 55 points. The Centennials have an Interior Division banner in their sights, but need to continue to win, while hoping for the Vees to falter.
Merritt leads the season series between the two teams 3-1-1 with a chance to take the edge tonight. Early on it was all Cents with scores of 8-4, 8-3, and 5-4 before the Warriors picked up wins 6-3 and 4-3 in OT. This game will also feature some highly talented forwards, as both teams have 3 players in the BCHL's top 20 scoring race (only the Victoria Grizzlies have more with 4).
Brad Cocca continues to lead the way for the Cents with 63 points which is good enough for 7th in the league. Nick Granowicz is coming off a 3-goal weekend where he eclipsed the 30 goal mark, and netted 2 game-winning goals to extend his league lead with 10. Him and Captain Nick Wicks are tied in points with 57 on the campaign.
Mike Hardman is the top dog for the Warriors with 68 points for 3rd in the BCHL. Chase Dubois has 60 points for 11th, and Willie Reim has 57 points for 17th.
The special teams battle sees the Warriors with one of the leagues most potent powerplays.
Powerplay: Penalty Kill:
WK - 23.2% (2nd) WK - 76.8% (13th)
Cents - 18.9% (12th) Cents - 77.4% (12th)
The battle between the pipes sees Austin Roden continuing his stretch of dominant play. He's now 24-8-3 with a .908 SV%, a 3.04 GAA, and 2 shutouts. Vincent Duplessis is still nursing an injury, but should he be ready to return is 9-5-3 with a .906 SV% and a 3.21 GAA.
Rookie Connor Hopkins has shared the crease with Brock Baier this season with West Kelowna. Hopkins is 15-18 with a .912 SV%, a 3.24 GAA and 1 shutout. Baier is 12-8 with .894 SV% and a 4.17 GAA.
Head Coach Joe Martin expects another close game from the Warriors.
"The Warriors are still a dangerous team that you need to respect. We will need to be playing our best to get past them."
The Cents will try their best to ensure the Warriors don't come close tonight.
Puck Drop 7pm. Pre-Game 6:45 on Hockey TV and Q101.1FM with Jared Thomas.