The Merritt Centennials (1-3) get set to take on a team other than the Prince George Spruce Kings for the first time in the preseason as they welcome their Interior Division rival the Trail Smoke Eaters (4-2) to town tonight.
The Centennials are coming off a tough 5-1 loss to the Prince George Spruce Kings that saw them suffer from some tough bounces. The game didn’t start well with Colton Cameron striking within the first minute with a floater from the line that found its way through a crowd in front. Austin Spiridakis netted his first of the preseason minutes later after an ill-timed pinch led to a 3-on-1 the other way. Merritt was on their heels through the first 10 minutes, but after the BCHL media time out the team hit the ice like a completely different squad and quickly found a goal from Ben Ward to get them back into the game. The Cents looked to be on the comeback trail to start the second period with a powerplay opportunity, but that’s where things started to unravel. Josh Dias was caught off-guard by a streaking Andrew Seaman who stole the puck and scored shorthanded. Late in the period after the Cents drew another penalty, Christian Buono was able to goad Trevor Isaksson into a misconduct. With all the commotion after the call, Mason Waite streaked in from centre, blowing past the defensemen and added another shorthanded to put PG up 4-1 after 2. The Cents weren’t able to muster much in the third period, and ex-Cent Hunor Torzsok sealed the game with a gift off the endboards of the RMCA that led to a 5-1 final.
The team will be glad to see a new opponent in front of them after playing a 4-set against one of the stingiest teams in the BCHL. The Centennials and Smoke Eaters have some history as they were spirited playoff rivals two seasons ago, before the Smoke Eaters took off to be one of the top offensive clubs and top clubs overall last season. However, a lot of those familiar faces that brought the Smoke Eaters to new heights last season are no longer there. No Kent Johnson or Phillipe Lapointe who have graduated to the University of Michigan. No more Owen Ozar who has moved on to the USHL. No more Michael Collela and the list goes on. The Smoke Eaters find themselves with a new bench boss in Tim Fragle, and are reloading this season with only 6 returning players from last seasons roster. However, at least early on the team seems to be clicking just fine with the new players in the fold. Also only playing against one opponent so far this preseason, the expansion Cranbrook Bucks, the Smoke Eaters have 4 wins and 2 losses so far. In their last 5 games they are 3-2 with a tight 6-5 win in OT their last time out that earned them a weekend split after a 4-1 loss to Cranbrook. Before that they were 4-2 and 3-1 winners after a 3-0 shutout at the hands of the Bucks.
The Centennials will be hoping to kick start the offense after struggling to a 1.50 goal-per-game rate against the trapping Spruce Kings. In talking with the players and staff, no one is hitting the panic button yet, and they’re hopeful a new team on the other end of the ice will help wake some of the offensive mojo.
Former Smoke Eater Trevor Isaksson currently leads the way for the Merritt Centennials with 3 points in 4 games. Ben Ward, Jerzy Orchard, and Grayson Valente have supplied 2 points while 8 other Cents have chipped in on the offense.
The Smoke Eaters are led by Connor Sweeney with 8 points, Connor Michaud and Cody Schiavon have 5 points while 3 others have 4 points.
The special teams battle sees both teams even with the extra man, but Trail is currently tops in the league when it comes to the kill.
Powerplay: Penalty Kill:
Trail – 12.5% (14th) Trail – 90.6% (1st)
Cents – 12.5% (15th) Cents – 81.8% (10th)
The goaltending situation sees Dias continue to search for his first win as he’s 0-3 with a .837 SV% and a 5.00 GAA. Colton Phillips-Watts is waiting in the wings with a 1-0 record, a .960 SV%, and a 1.00 GAA.
Reigning rookie of the year Logan Terness is 3-1 in the crease so far with a .905 SV% and a 3.48 GAA. Newcomer Cayden Hamming is 1-1 with a .932 SV% and a 2.20 GAA.
Assistant Coach Levi Start says the team is looking forward to a new opponent.
“I think the team is excited to see someone different, to be playing back at home, and to be playing a team that plays a different style. They’ve been working hard in practice to be ready for the game.”
The Centennials will hope that a new opponent will bring a new result tonight.
Puck drop 7pm from the NVMA. Pre-game 6:45 on BCHLTV.ca and Q101.ca with Jared Thomas and Michael Reeve.