The Merritt Centennials (11-38-1-3) take on division rival Salmon Arm Silverbacks (28-20-4-1) tonight.
The Centennials are coming off a tough loss to the Coquitlam Express that saw their playoff hopes dashed. The Centennials opened the scoring with a goal from Daniel Tkac after Rylan Van Unen stripped his man at the blueline and kept the pressure on. The goal came just a minute into the contest, but after catching the Express flat footed the best team in the BCHL came back full force. The Express were able to storm back with 5 unanswered goals in the first period to take a commanding 5-1 lead after 20 minutes of play. Ryan Winter was chased from the net after the 4-1 goal, and in a must win game the Cents had to pass the reigns onto Tanner Marshall. However there was no stopping the freight train on Tuesday night as the Express rolled on for 4 more goals on the night. One of the lone bright spots on the night was a coast to coast rush and goal from Captain Rylan Van Unen shorthanded for the 2nd goal of the game. Chase Nameth also took a big hit in the 2nd period that started a melee and a flurry of penalties. Ultimately, the Express would go on to win 9-2 and match the Cents toughest defeat on the season.
The Salmon Arm Silverbacks are starting to heat up at the right time and are 4-0-1 in their last 5. Two of those victories are the most recent in the season series between these two divisional rivals as just a few weeks ago the Cents lost 6-2 and 5-3 to Salmon Arm. From there the 'Backs went on to win 3-0 versus Langley, their lone blemish came 3-2 in overtime against the Penticton Vees, and this week they were able to crush the West Kelowna Warriors 6-2. After a shaky January, the team has recommitted to being a defense first team and it has translated on the stat sheet to more wins in the bank. The Silverbacks are in a tight race to secure 3rd place in the Interior Division but they have the Vernon Vipers and the Wenatchee Wild nipping at their heels. Salmon Arm has 61 points, Vernon 59, and the Wild 58.
The season series sits 1-2-1 against the Silverbacks for the Cents and most recently the Cents fell 6-2 and 5-3 in a double header. Payton Matsui has been a prime target for offense of late and in the season series has been pretty clutch. Tonight will be an interesting contest as it marks the first game of the season that the Cents have been mathematically elminated from the playoffs. Will the Cents go out with some pride, or pack it in early?
There is one man to be very proud of in Merritt tonight, and that's Brian Barrett the former longtime Governor and Director of Hockey Operations has done everything from being a player to being the owner of the club and earlier this season he announced he was stepping back from the team. Tonight we honor a man who has given his life to hockey in the Nicola Valley, and without his passion, there may not be a team in the building to enjoy.
The Cents will be looking from contributions from their to end in Payton Matsui with 37 points, Christian Buono with 33, and Daniel Tkac with 27. Lately, it's been Captain Rylan Van Unen that's been playing some inspired hockey as he's now up to 14 goals and 25 points on the year.
The Silverbacks are led by their Captain who also leads the league in points by a defender with 51, Noah Wakeford has 48, and Daniel Rybarik has 44.
In net the Cents netminders are looking to finish strong. Ryan Winter is 4-19-1 with an .892 SV%, a 4.40 GAA and 1 shutout. Tanner Marshall is 6-18 with an .879 SV% and a 4.97 GAA.
Ethan Langenegger is one of the top goalies in the BCHL and one of the busiest. He's 21-14-2 this season with a .911 SV%, a 2.75 GAA and 3 shutouts. Grant Adams was picked up just before the deadline and is 4-2-1 with a .910 SV% and a 2.70 GAA.
Assistant Coach Zach Wright says there's still plenty to play for, including playing spoiler.
"It's our chance to try and relish that spoiler role. This is a team that's looking for points to get higher in the standings, and we can deny them that."
The Cents will look to play spoiler tonight.
Puck drop 7pm. Pregame 6:45 with Jared Thomas and Michael Reeve on Q101 and HockeyTV.