The 2nd seeded Merritt Centennials (36-15-4-3) and the 7th seeded Trail Smoke Eaters (23-24-8-3) meet in the post season for just the 2nd time in their long histories.
Tonight begins the second season for both clubs, and despite being a 2 vs 7 match up on paper the series will be much tougher than that. The Cents hold the season series edge at 4-0-2, and went perfect against the Smoke Eaters at home. Needless to say home ice advantage will be paramount as both teams have some of the most unique dimensions, and atmosphere's to their rink. The Cents won with a bit of breathing room at every game held at the NVMA by scores of 4-2, 5-3, and most recently 6-4. In games in Trail, the Cents were the only team to win in regulation 5-2, and two games went beyond 60 minutes one a 2-1 loss in OT where Duplessis fell beyond the goal line, the other a 3-2 loss in the shootout. However, overtime will be a full 5-on-5 now that we are into the post season, and there will be no skills competition to bail the Smoke Eaters out either. With the 4th best home record, and the 3rd best away record in the BCHL, the Cents will be looking to defend their territory well in games 1 and 2 and then eyeing at least a split in Trail.
The Cents conclude what was their best season in 30 years, setting highs for wins (36) and win percentage in that span (.681), and their 220 goals for was the best it's been in 13 seasons. Trail managed 184 goals this season while allowing 207 against for a -23 differential, while the Cents were able to outscore many of their problems at +38. While those stats go out the window, and everything is wiped to zero to start game 1 the Cents will have confidence knowing that they are fully capable of beating any team in the BCHL. Having 5 scorers who eclipsed 50 points also helps the team brim with confidence, while the Smoke Eaters had just 2 players get past the 50 point mark. The depth of the Cents up front should be a difference maker in this series.
Defensively it may be Trail that holds a slight edge in the series. Through much of the season they deployed 7 defensemen to give them options on the blue line, and they're built for the playoffs being big and physical. Trail has a lot more of their offense move through the back end with 124 points recorded on the season from defenders, but there is a big drop off in production behind Trevor Zins and Diarmad Dimurro. The Cents are a little more even across the board from 1-7 and have actually helped more on the scoresheet with 128 points, but the Cents also scored 36 more goals than the Smokies. The Cents employ more mobile, puck moving defenseman and will need to be shifty, but also willing to take the hit to make the play.
Special Teams will be the biggest X-factor in the series. Trail has one of the best powerplays on the season, but on the penalty kill both teams struggled. Needless to say, the team that can seize their opportunities with the extra man, but also limit the damage on the penalty kill will have a huge advantage in this series.
Powerplay: Penalty Kill:
Trail - 22.8% (4th) Trail - 77.7% (11th)
Cents - 18.9% (13th) Cents - 77.3% (13th)
Offensively the Cents will continue to rely on their fantastic five who all eclipsed the 50 points plateau. Brad Cocca finished the season 6th in the league with 68 points, Mathieu Gosselin finished 14th with 60 points, Nick Granowicz finished 16th with 59 points, Nick Wicks finished 18th with 59 points, and Matt Kopperud finished with 51 points on the year.
Conversely, Trail had just 4 players score over 40 points. Carter Jones finished with 55 points, Chase Stevenson had 53, rookie Kent Johnson had 46, and defender Trevor Zins also had 46 points.
As with any trip to the post season, goaltending will play a huge factor. Both teams feature a goalie who is used to getting a lot of action in the crease as Roden was the 4th most utilized goalie in the BCHL with 2442 minutes played, and Marcoux was the 5th most with 2376 minutes played. Austin Roden may be the hottest goalie in the league right now coming off 5 straight wins and the league's final BCHL Player of the week nod. He's 27-8-3 with a .912 SV%, a 2.95 GAA, and 2 shutouts. Vincent Duplessis is back to 100%, but hasn't seen action in nearly a month. He is 9-5-3 with a .906 SV% and a 3.21 GAA.
Donovan Buskey may be turned to early on in the series with Adam Marcoux recovering from injury. Buskey is 5-4 with an .880 SV% and a 3.99 GAA. Marcoux has been the guy this season for Trail with a record of 16-22 with a .893 SV% and a 3.13 GAA.
Head Coach Joe Martin knows this isn't a Trail team to be taken lightly.
"I have a lot of respect for Trail, and I think that's a feeling our team needs to have, but at the same time we need to make sure we're playing the right way, and our way."
Game 1 of the playoffs goes tonight, and it is Murray GM night. The first 100 fans will get a free rally towel, Murray GM giveaways in the first intermission, and a $140 detailing package up for grabs in the 2nd intermission.
Get your tickets by 3pm from the Marketing Office across from Canada Post, or after 3pm tickets will be available at the door at the NVMA.
Puck Drop 7pm. Pre-Game 6:45 on Q101.1 FM and Q101.ca with Jared Thomas.