The Merritt Centennials (18-9-1-1) have another long road trip to Prince George to take on the Spruce Kings (19-7-1-2).
The Centennials are coming off a week where they went 1-0-1-0 for an overtime split against the Trail Smoke Eaters and the Salmon Arm Silverbacks. Against the Smoke Eaters the Cents had trouble getting the offense going as they weren't quite getting passes tape to tape, in a game that was filled with neutral zone hockey. The Smoke Eaters scored on their first powerplay, and first shot of the game, but no other offense was found until the 3rd when Brad Cocca tied things up to send it to overtime. The Cents and Vincent Duplessis fell by way of a controversial goal call in overtime, as Duplessis made the save as he was falling into the net, but he was ruled to have crossed that line. The Cents would return home on Saturday night to take on the Silverbacks and after a flurry of offense in the first period which included Payton Matsui not only scoring his first, but his second goal in the BCHL, and Brad Cocca adding a shorthanded goal, the 'Backs crawled back to tie it with 5 minutes remaining in the third. The Cents would prevail thanks to Jackson Munro in overtime, scoring his first goal of the season after returning from injury the week before.
The Spruce Kings are coming off a double-header against the league-leading Chilliwack Chiefs where they split action. In both games they led, but on Friday the Chiefs stormed back to win it in a shootout 3-2, and the Kings crowned the Chiefs the following night by a score of 6-3.
This will be the first match up of the year against the out of division opponent, and last season the Cents went 1-1-1 against the Spruce Kings. They lost the season series opener in the BCHL Showcase 4-3, won at home 5-2, and lost on the road 3-2 in overtime. The game will see a battle of two opposing coaching philosophies as the Cents represent one of the leagues best offenses with 113 goals for while PG represents the leagues best defense with only 63 goals allowed.
The Cents attack is led by Brad Cocca who picked up 2 goals over the weekend to improve his total to 41 points on the year which is 3rd in the league. Nick Granowicz has 38 points for 5th league-wide while Mathieu Gosselin is 12th in league scoring with 33 points.
The Spruce Kings are led by Ben Brar with 32 points, Dustin Manz with 31, and Captain Ben Poisson and Patrick Cozzi each have 25 points.
The special teams battle sees the Spruce Kings with the edge.
Powerplay: Penalty Kill:
PG - 20.4% (5th) PG - 78.8% (12th)
Cents - 16.9% (14th) Cents - 76.4% (15th)
In net the Cents goalies split the weekend, and split the decisions. Vincent Duplessis fell in overtime and is now 6-3-2 with a .908 SV% and a 3.13 GAA. Austin Roden prevailed in overtime and is 12-5 with a .896 SV%, 3.47 GAA, and 1 shutout. The Spruce Kings have relied on Logan Neaton throughout the season and he's managed the workload well going 16-3 with a .913 SV%, a 1.98 GAA, and 1 shutout. Prince George announced in a trade yesterday with Vernon that they have moved back up Bradley Cooper to the Cents Interior Division rival.
Head Coach Joe Martin knows this game will be a test of patience.
"They're one of the few teams in this league that employs a purely defensive style of neutral zone play. We will have to wait for our opportunities and make those opportunities count if we want to come out on top."
Puck Drop 7pm. Pre-Game 6:45 on Q101.1FM and Q101.ca with Jared Thomas.
Team Canada West released it's try out roster for the upcoming World Junior A Challenge today and two Centennials will battle for a spot on the team.
Brad Cocca and Mathieu Gosselin have both been named to the try out camp, and have both impressed this season. The Mississauga native, Cocca leads the Centennials in points this season and is third in the BCHL with 40 through 29 games while Gosselin, hailing from Quebec City, has scored 13 goals and added 20 assists.
Head Coach Joe Martin will be a part of the decision making process as he will once again serve as an Assistant Coach for Team Canada West. He says to make this team you have to have a different mentality.
"You have to come in with almost a 3rd line mentality. You have to be willing to grind it out, play a full 200 ft game, and work your butt off. Everyone who comes to camp is the best on their respective team, so you can't take any shortcuts."
Martin added that working against both of the Centennials will be there 1999 birth year as the team will only be allowed to carry 5 players in that bracket.
Team Canada West is looking for back-to-back Gold Medals at the tournament and time will tell if a Cent will join Martin for that defense.
The Merritt Centennials are proud to announce that defenseman and local product Mike Van Unen has committed to play for Northern Michigan University for 2019-20.
In his 3rd year of BCHL action, Van Unen has taken a big step forward this season in terms of minutes played, match ups, and points totals. His 3 goals and 12 assists through 29 games already surpasses his previous high of 13 points in 57 games last season, and his rookie season of 6 points in 31 games.
Van Unen says that it's his puck moving ability that caught the programs eye.
"They like my skating, moving the puck and said it would fit in well with the culture they're trying to build there."
Head Coach Joe Martin adds that there's a bright future ahead for Mike.
"It's what he can do with his feet, he can shoot the puck at the next level, he can do a lot of things that we can only see glimpses of that the next level gets really excited about."
The move will see the twin brothers split up for the first time in their hockey careers, but Van Unen says they both did what felt right.
"It was more about finding the best fit for ourselves than going as a package."
Van Unen and the Cents have a busy week of hockey ahead with away games against Prince George and Vernon before returning home to conclude the season series against Salmon Arm.
The Merritt Centennials have announced the commitment of forward and Merritt local Rylan Van Unen to the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Now in his 3rd year with the Merritt Centennials Van Unen has already matched his career high in BCHL points with 18 this season through 29 games. He won a gold medal last season with Head Coach Joe Martin and Team Canada West in the World Junior A Challenge while putting up 16 points in 43 games. In his rookie season he tallied 5 goals and 13 assists in 53 games.
Van Unen says it was his speed and tenacity that the program likes.
"They liked how I played hard on the forecheck, that 200 foot, North, South game."
Head Coach Joe Martin adds that it's special to see a player that's been a part of the team for three seasons move on.
"Extremely excited for his Rylan and his family. The Nanooks have had their eye on Rylan even all the way back to their former coaching staff so they have a lot of notes on him, did their homework, made three trips to see him play, and he's really happy with the opportunity he'll get there."
Van Unen will join a Division 1 program, and suit up for the blue and yellow of the Nanooks in the WCHA division. As a member of the Nanooks, Van Unen will suit up against some familiar faces including: Zach Court and Nick Wicks (University of Alaska Anchorage), Former Captain Tyrell Buckley (Michigan Tech University), brother Michael Van Unen (Northern Michigan University) and Jacob Berger (Minnesota State University, Monkato).
With the commitment, the Cents now have 8 players on the roster who will move on to NCAA hockey.
The Merritt Centennials made their second trip to OT in as many nights, but this time they wouldn't play the victim, as Jackson Munro rifled a shot top corner to propel the Cents to a 4-3 victory over the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.
The Cents got off to a strong start, and a forward who has been all over the ice since he's joined the team finally scored his first goal in the BCHL. Payton Matsui streaked across the right wing side before picking the far-side past the blocker of Ethan Langenegger to make it 1-0. He'd follow that up with a bit of a lucky one at the 8:04 mark of the first, banking it off a defenders skate and in to make it 2-0. The Cents and Silverbacks would trade chances on the powerplay, but the only goal on special teams on the night would come from the Cents shorthanded. Nick Granowicz drove wide with speed, then tried a wrap around and found Bradd Cocca out front and the leading scorer made no mistake giving the Cents the 3-0 edge through the first. The Cents outshot the Silverbacks 10-5 in the first, with Austin Roden having a clean sheet through one.
In the second it would be the SIlverbacks turn to turn up the heat. Nick Unruh would score just 2 and a half minutes into the second, and Andy Stevens would add another later in the frame. Stevens threw a shot on Roden as he crossed the blue line and Roden got a big piece of it with the blocker, but it rolled over and in to bring the Silverbacks within 1. The Silverbacks threw everything on net to out shoot the Cents after 2, 27-20.
The Silverbacks and Cents would both play strong in the third, but the Backs would pull all the way back and tie it at 3's with 5 minutes left. Matthew Verboon bullied the puck across the line.
In OT, the Cents dominated, and were rewarded. Mathieu Gosselin worked the puck up to Nick Wicks, and then it found it's way to Jackson Munro who blasted a shot upstairs to play hero and give the Cents the 4-3 win.
With the win the Cents keep pace with the Penticton Vees, but will remain in second place.
Energy Player of the Game - Brendan Schneider
3rd Star - Andy Stevens: 1G
2nd Star - Payton Matsui: 2G
1st Star - Jackson Munro: 1G, 1A
After the game, Head Coach Joe Martin said that Munro brings something special to the club.
"Jackson just brings an all out positivity to the bench. He brings the team up when they need it. He's coachable and always ready to take advice. He's been great since returning to the line up."
The Cents will have another long road trip ahead when they face the Prince George Spruce Kings on Wednesday.