The Merritt Centennials get set to begin a new era against the Wenatchee Wild to embark the 2019-20 season under new Head Coach and General Manager Barry Wolff.
All told the Centennials will have 8 players returning from last season's roster, but have added 5 more players with a wealth of Junior A experience in various leagues. The players returning to the Cents are led by 4 year man Rylan Van Unen, 3rd year Cent Joey Berkopec, and then the young guns who got their first taste of BCHL action last year Brett Roloson, Vincent Guy, Payton Matsui, Ben Ward, Daniel Tkac, and local Talon Zakall. GM Wolff has made some additions to the squad through trades during the summer. Incoming are former Salmon Arm Silverbacks defenseman Olson Werenka at the expense of Jackson Munro, rearguard Troy Quinn who cost Mattias Dal Monte, and forward Matt Osadick who was swung for a pair of Centennials in Frazer Dodd and Vincent Duplessis. Tanner Mortenson from the Notre Dame Hounds and Chase Nameth from the Chilliwack Chiefs were added by way of future considerations.
Headlining the additions to the team out of camp is a name that's become familiar in the Nicola Valley - Josh Van Unen. He was a 2 point-per-game player in his season with Shawnigan Prep School of the CSSHL last season with 58 points in 29 games. Spencer Schneider comes in with a commitment to Bowling Green, and also has some leadership qualities serving as Captain for his High School team Lakeville North High. He compiled 31 points in 21 games. Thomas Manty is another import from Andover, Mississauga and he put up 44 points with his high school team. Wyatt Marlow, a young 17 year old, comes to the Cents after spending last season with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks where he put up 3 points in 36 games. Sean Michalevich has all the physical attributes of a power forward in a young mans body as he's a towering 6'4 and 215 pounds. He's spent time with the Danish national team on the U-16 team and played midget hockey in Red Deer where he had 13 points in 33 games. Isaac Alvarado comes from the PJHL's Richmond Sockeyes where he had 26 points in 38 games played last season. Colton Sun spent time in the BCMML's Vancouver NW Hawks program last year putting up 16 points in 39 games as a defender. Brophy Dunne comes from the BCMML as well, but through the Cariboo Cougars program, where he had 9 points in 33 games played.
After having their starter Austin Roden graduate to Omaha and Vincent Duplessis traded to acquire Matt Osadick one of the burning questions heading into the regular season has been goaltending. Coach Wolff hopes he's found the answer in the tandem of Ryan Winter and Dylan Kosik. Winter is a 20 year old goaltender who's gotten some seasoning in the NOJHL and the NAHL before coming to the Centennials. Last year he played 18 games and sported a combined 2.93 GAA and a .895 SV%. Dylan Kosik played with the Rockland Nationals and got into 23 games with a 2.53 GAA and a .915 SV% and is the younger of the goaltenders at 18.
The Cents are coming off one of their most successful campaigns in franchise history. Under the guidance of Head Coach Joe Martin the team went 36-15-4-3 and tied with the Penticton Vees atop the regular season standings in the Interior Division. The Wenatchee Wild finished 3rd in the division with a 32-20-2-4 record after winning the BCHL championship in the 2017-18 season.
By way of comparison the Wild only have 6 players returning to the team from last year, and 2 that were acquired by way of trade that have BCHL experience on their resume. Brian Adams, Matt Dorsey, Hunter Hastings, Dylan Herzog, and Trevor Greibel all come back to the fold for the Wild. Wenatchee also made a pair of trades with Mainland Division teams to bolster their ranks acquiring forward Dallas Farrell from the Coquitlam Express and goaltender Daniel Chenard from the Chilliwack Chiefs.
Both teams shared a rough preseason finishing 1-3 respectively. The Centennials started out with 3 straight losses before heading into the regular season on a winning note, while the Wild did the opposite - starting with a win and then dropping three straight coming into the campaign.
The Cents lost 3-1 in their preseason opener to the Penticton Vees with Olson Werenka registering the only goal, and followed that up with a 5-2 loss the following night at home against the same Vees club. The Cents had a much better second week of the exhibition season against Prince George. They fell 5-3 up North but looked much improved with Payton Matsui, Daniel Tkac, and newcomer Troy Quinn all lighting the lamp. When they returned to the NVMA for their preseason finale on Friday it was a tightly contested 4-3 shootout thriller that saw the Cents pick up their only W. Payton Matsui scored two goals in regulation, Joey Berkopec had the late dagger in the final minute to tie the game, and Daniel Tkac had the slick moves in the shootout to give the Cents the edge.
The Wild started out strong with a 3-1 win over the Mainland Division and Regular Season leading Chilliwack Chiefs 3-1. They followed that with a 5-0 loss at the hands of the Langley Rivermen, an 8-5 loss to the Coquitlam Express, and a 3-2 defeat to the Surrey Eagles.
Regardless of the outcome in the preseason, both teams will come in hungry wanting to not only start the season off on the right foot, but to set the tone against each other. The Cents and Wild will lock horns 6 times before the end of November and 3 times in September alone. Both coaches will be wanting to lay down the gauntlet as to what it will take to come out on top.
Head Coach Wolff knows that the Wild will still employ the same style.
"The Wild haven't changed their signature since they've come into the league. They play fast, they play with skill, and their specialty teams are always good. We need to make sure we finish hits and separate man from puck, keep things simple and get pucks and bodies to the net."
The Cents will hope that their new style will produce a W in their first game under new Head Coach Barry Wolff.
Puck Drop 7pm. Pre-Game on Q101 and HockeyTV with Jared Thomas and Michael Reeve starting at 6:45.
Be sure to stop by early for the Murray GM Home Opener Tail Gate Party with DJ Ben Lens and a food truck serving up hot dogs by donation from 5:45 to puck drop.