The Merritt Centennials (1-5) get set for their first back to back and their first ever meeting with the expansion Cranbrook Bucks (3-4-1) tonight.
The Centennials are coming off the heels of a heartbreaker to the Trail Smoke Eaters last night that saw them fall 7-6. The Merritt Centennials pushed the pace and pushed the Smoke Eaters to the brink, but in the end a blip in the second period came back to bite the Cents as they fell 7-6 in Trail. The first period saw the Cents playing some of their best hockey of the preseason. They were putting the pressure on, putting bodies to the ice, and putting pucks in the net. A pair of goals from Talon Zakall saw the game end up level at 2-2 after 1. The Centennials continued the attack in the second period and were pressing for the go ahead goal in for the first 7 minutes. Unfortunately, they couldn't find it and the Smoke Eaters got a gift off an own goal that was credited to Noah Wakeford. Chase Dafoe added another goal within a minute, and then the Centennials took a double-minor and Cody Schiavon was able to score on the powerplay. Before the Centennials could get back to their hard working ways Connor Sweeney added a lazy backhander that picked the top corner over Colton Phillips-Watts and unfortunately for the rookie tender his night was over in favour of Josh Dias. With the goaltender change the Centennials were able to recapture momentum and came back at the Smoke Eaters. Walker Erickson cashed in on a goal, Ben Ward crashed the blue paint for a goal, and Erickson added another late in the frame to make it 6-5 heading to the third. The work boots were on for the third period as well and the Cents were rewarded when Erickson found his third of the night by firing a rebound past Terness to make it 6-6 five minutes into the frame. The Centennials sat back for a while before they tried to pull up their socks for the game winning goal. The game was looking fated for overtime when a 50/50 call went the Smoke Eaters way for goaltender interference. On the powerplay Sweeney was able to add his second of the night and the Smoke Eaters were able to hang on for the win 7-6.
The Cranbrook Bucks are coming off a double-header against the Prince George Spruce Kings and the expansion franchise earned themselves a split. They were able to score a 6-2 stomping in game 1, but the Spruce Kings held them to a 2-1 loss in game 2. The 6-2 victory saw the franchises first hat trick scored by Dane Dowiak, and the Bucks are quickly crafting an identity as a high speed, high skill team, that likes to work their systems and work hard. The Centennials will have to play a tight game to keep them at bay, but may have an advantage when it comes to physical play against the Bucks.
The Centennials will hope that the confidence and belief that they built up last night in Trail follows them through to the contest tonight. The team hit it's high water mark in goals scored, in fact they matched their entire offensives output for the preseason in one game. Walker Erickson had a break out game, and a number of Centennials were in on the offense. If the Cents can capture that feeling in a bottle they will be set for Cranbrook.
The Centennials now have a 6 way tie for the team lead in points with 4. Walker Erickson, Ben Ward, Talon Zakall, Grayson Valente, Jerzy Orchard and Trevor Isaksson all sharing the honor.
The Bucks are led by Dane Dowiak up front with 14 points, Captain Briggs Gamill has 10 points, and Michael Hagen has 9 points.
The teams split the special teams battle with the Cents having the edge on the powerplay, but the Bucks having sway on the penalty kill.
Powerplay: Penalty Kill:
Cents - 13.3% (14th) Cents - 78.1% (12th)
Bucks - 7.7% (16th) Bucks - 86.1% (5th)
The goaltending duel sees the Cents not knowing what to do after Colton Phillips-Watts was pulled in last night's contest. He's now 1-1 with a .833 SV% and a 4.51 GAA. Josh Dias didn't face much action in relief and is now 0-4 with a .855 SV% and a 4.75 GAA.
The Bucks have a goaltending tandem their looking to nurture as well. Jacob Zacharewicz is 3-1 with a .908 SV%, a 2.36 GAA and 1 shutout while Nathan Airey is 0-2 with an .890 SV% and a 3.98 GAA.
Head Coach Derek Sweet Coulter said there were many positives to draw from last night.
"We did a great job of coming back, there's a confidence in that room now, there's a belief, if we can carry over this momentum, I like our chances."
The Centennials are hoping that they will go home with a positive in the win column tonight
Puck drop 6pm. 5:45 pregame show on Q101 and BCHLTV with Jared Thomas and Michael Reeve.
Watch party at Boston Pizza - make your reservation at 378-4222.