The Merritt Centennials (11-37-1-3) welcome the BCHL's best in the Coquitlam Express (42-8-1-1) tonight.
The Cents are coming in with a head of steam after their first win of 2020 against the Prince George Spruce Kings. Early on the Cents were in tough as they came in with just 4 defenseman, and Brophy Dunne dropped the gloves after being goaded into a fight by Wil Kushniryk. That would drop the Cents D corps down to three, but they'd battle on with the help of the Van Unen bros filling in on the backend. Prince George would find the scoreboard first after a deflection from Haydn Delorme and would lead after 1, but a strong 2nd period would bring the Centennials back from the brink. A breakaway goal from Rylan Van Unen tied the game at 1-1, then a play out of the corner from Evan Benwell gave the Cents the 2-1 lead, and Hunor Torzsok would add to the lead with a goal on a broken play after a Payton Matsui centering feed to give the Cents a solid three goal outburst in the third. The Spruce Kings would cut the lead to one before the period was over, but in the third the Cents used the strength of their special teams to get back into the contest. Matsui would deflect a Talon Zakall point shot home on the powerplay, and then put a pass on a platter for Hunor Torzsok on shorthanded to give the Cents a 5-2 lead. Some timely, and unreal saves from Ryan Winter helped the Cents hang on for their first victory of the new year, and helped snap a 15 game losing streak.
The Coquitlam Express have been another animal this season, and are a well oiled machine heading into the playoffs and looking to lock up tops in the regular season. They are 4-0-1 in their last five with the lone blemish coming to the Wenatchee Wild 4-3 in overtime. Aside from that, the Express have won with varying degrees of difficulty topping Victoria 6-3, Alberni Valley 9-4, Langley 5-0, and Chilliwack 4-3. Part of the Express success is that it's not any one player, or one line that's been carrying the mail over the year. Coquitlam has 9 scorers with 30 or more points, and 10 players with 10 or more goals on the campaign. Tonight will also mark the return of Joey Berkopec for one final time in Merritt during his junior career. It will take an all hands on deck effort from the Cents to slow down the league's best.
The lone game in the season series was way back in September of this year. Where the Express came away with a 6-3 win. Matt Osadick, Daniel Tkac, and Payton Matsui scored in the losing effort.
The Cents got a 3 point performance from their top point getter on Friday in Matsui who now has 37 points. Christian Buono has 33, while Daniel Tkac and Thomas Manty have 26 points.
Coquitlam has two scorers in the league's top 20 in Greg Lapointe with 53 points, and Josh Wildauer with 49. Connor Gregga is 3rd in team scoring with 41 points, while one of the most dangerous players in the BCHL in Massimo Rizzo has 39.
The special teams battle sees the Cents coming off the good vibes built up in their last game, but they'll be running up one of the best units in the league on both sides of the puck.
Powerplay: Penalty Kill:
Cents - 12% (17th) Cents - 72.1% (17th)
Express - 24.5% (2nd) Express - 88.8% (1st)
In net, Ryan Winter is coming off a win and is now 4-18-1 with a .895 SV%, a 4.28 GAA, and 1 shutout. Tanner Marshall is 6-18 with an .881 SV% and a 4.92 GAA.
The Express boast the leagues best netminder, and have a 3 goalie tandem. Clay Stevenson is 29-2-1 with a 1.76 GAA, a .935 SV% and 4 shutouts this year. Jack Watson is 10-4 with a 2.62 GAA, a .904 SV% and 1 shutout, while Joe Howe, who was acquired from Victoria, is 9-15 with a .896 SV% a 3.82 GAA and 1 shutout.
Derek Sweet Coulter says that it will take an effort from the full lineup.
"What we saw on Friday was everyone playing hard, everyone playing defense, and everyone chipping in. We will need that effort and more against the Express."
The Cents will hope to take full advantage and add another win to the column tonight.
Puck drop 7pm from the NVMA. Pregame 6:45 with Jared Thomas and Michael Reeve on Q101 and HockeyTV.