The Merritt Centennials (35-15-4-3) will sport their new 3rd jerseys tonight against the Vernon Vipers (26-21-7-3).
The Cents are coming off a gutsy win in Langley to keep their hopes of finishing first in the division alive. The Rivermen scored on the powerplay before Frazer Dodd poked in a Joey Berkopec shot from centre that squeaked past the netminder to tie things at 1. In the second period, Mathieu Gosselin got the Cents their first lead of the game when he converted on a drop feed from Brad Cocca with a shot low glove to make it 2-1. The Rivermen tied it up 3 minutes later, and the tie held up through 60 minutes and overtime to take the game to a shootout. Fortunately for Austin Roden after making 44 saves on 46 shots throughout the game he didn't have to make one in the shootout as the Rivermen missed the net on both their chances. Matthieu Gosselin and Matt Kopperud made good on both of theirs to ensure a 3-2 shootout victory for the Cents.
Vernon are 3-2 in their last 5 and are coming off a 4-1 win vs the Coquitlam Express. Coleton Bilodeau, Teddy Wooding, Trey Taylor, and Logan Cash all cashed in for the Vipers who have had an amazing turnaround to their season. Early on in the year they were on the wrong side of one-goal games and overtime losses, but still managed to pick up points along the way. They've managed to barter that into a 4th place finish in the Interior Division regardless of tonight's outcome.
The Cents will need a favour from the Salmon Arm Silverbacks if they expect to finish first place in the division. The Penticton Vees will need to lose in regulation or overtime, and the Cents would need to win in regulation or go to overtime to secure first place. The Vees just hold the tie breaker with a 1 win edge, and the edge in the season series. Whoever finishes first goes on to play the Cowichan Valley Capitals, whoever finishes 2nd will travel to Trail.
Merritt has the slight edge in the season series 3-2. The teams traded 5-2 wins early in the year. The Cents won 4-3 at home before being topped 3-2 in November. In early January the Cents won a thriller 3-2 in overtime with just 8 seconds to go that kicked off a stellar second half for the Cents. The Cents will look to secure the season series with a victory tonight.
The Centennials will need all hands on deck for the final game of the year. Brad Cocca leads the way with 67 points - still 6th in the league. Nick Granowicz and Mathieu Gosselin are tied with 59 points on the year, and after a crazy night in the BCHL Nick Wicks is no longer in the top 20.
The Vernon Vipers have just 3 players with over 40 points on the season. Matt Kowalski has 42 points, Josh Latta has 40 and Connor Marritt has 40 as well.
The special teams battle sees the Vipers with the more dominant penalty kill.
Powerplay: Penalty Kill:
Vipers - 18% (15th) Vipers - 81.6% (6th)
Cents - 18.6% (12th) Cents - 77.4% (13th)
The Cents continue to ride red hot Austin Roden who has now won 4 in a row, and will play his 100th BCHL game tonight. Roden is 26-8-3 with a .911 SV%, a 2.95 GAA, and 2 shutouts. Vincent Duplessis is back behind Roden and is 9-5-3 with a .906 SV% and a 3.21 GAA.
Aiden Porter leads the way for the Vernon Vipers and is 19-17 with a .908 SV%, a 2.59 GAA, and 4 shutouts. Bradley Cooper has giving the Vipers a solid second option and is 7-13 with a .906 SV%, a 2.73 GAA, and 3 shutouts.
Head Coach Joe Martin knows that the Vernon Vipers will play with pride.
"The Vipers won't have much to play for in the standings tonight, but they're a well coached team, and a team that puts the sweater on and tries to win every night. We will have to push hard for the win."
The Cents will hope to make Merritt proud tonight.
Puck Drop 7pm. Pre-Game 6:45 on Hockey TV and Q101.ca with Jared Thomas.