Merritt Centennials
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The Merritt Centennials had arguably their best effort of the post season, but when the game looked bound for OT the Smoke Eaters pulled out a late goal to make it 3-2.

For the first time in the series the Cents scored the opening goal, and once again their first goal came shorthanded. After Joey Berkopec went off for hooking, Brady Ziemer sprung fellow Minnesotan Payton Matsui in on a break away. Matsui got a shot off the pad, and did well not to over skate the puck or the net, finding his own rebound to make it 1-0 at the 8:30 mark of the 1st.

Trail answered just under 3 minutes later with Kryski scoring his first of the playoffs to tie the game at 1.

Austin Roden turned in a much better effort throughout the game, giving the Cents the opportunity to win by making a couple key saves throughout the game. After 1 period shots were 14-10 Trail.

In the second period the Cents were the first to the scoresheet again, and once again it was Payton Matsui figuring into the offense. After a stretch pass was blocked at center, the Centennials threw the puck back in and Buskey went behind his net to play. Matsui picked his pocket and found Matt Kopperud out front who scored his 4th goal of the series to give the Cents the 2-1 edge just 2:15 into the second.

However, the Smoke Eaters didn’t give up on the stretch pass, and midway through the period Connor found Tuck up the middle of the ice, and he was sprung for a breakaway. Tuck took a page out of Kent Johnson’s book and faked backhand until the final second bringing it forehand and in past the pad of Roden to tie the game.

Shots after 2 period of play were 20-18.

The final frame saw both teams have chances to take the lead, but both goalies stood on their heads. Roden a little more so making big saves in tight and from distance. With the Cents pushing late in the third and hemming the puck in the Smokies zone, Trevor Zins in desperation got the puck up to Johnson. Johnson skated up the left wing, drove wide on Jaydon Fetter, dipped below the goal line and back out front to the backhand and went top shelf, glove on Roden for the dagger with just 2:30 to play.

The Cents ran out of time to equalize and fell 3-2.

After the game Head Coach Joe Martin said he thought the Cents gave their all.

"It was the best we've played in the series, but an unlucky goal at the end, a bad play for their second goal. We deserved a better fate."

They now have their backs against the wall trailing 3-1 for an elimination Game 5 back in Merritt on Friday night at 7pm from the NVMA. Pick up your tickets at the Marketing Office from 10-4pm tomorrow or 10-3pm on Friday. Then get your tickets at the rink from 3pm to puck drop. Cheer on your Cents to stave off elimination!

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The Merritt Centennials look to even the series at 2-2 after tonight's game with the Trail Smoke Eaters.

The Cents showed some resilience in Game 3, but were unable to answer the bell quick enough in a game that quickly unraveled from a scoreless draw to a rout.

The first period was a tentative feeling out process instead of the hard nose pressure that was seen in Games 1 and 2. There was no end to end action, no quick counter-attacks, and no goals. The Cents did have a number of chances early, but once again Donovan Buskey stood tall and after being shelled for 4 goals in Game 1 he is becoming a big part of this series. Austin Roden also made a number of key saves in the first period stopping all ten he faced.

The second period was where things started to go downhill. The Smoke Eaters scored their first goal on a bit of goaltender interference in front, but after a conference the officials decided to let the goal stand. The 2nd goal came off a broken play, Mike Van Unen fearlessly blocked a shot, the puck came right back to Carter Jones and from a bad angle he was able to score on his own rebound. A couple minutes later, Kent Johnson came in on the left wing with a bit of room, and was able to pick the corner blocker side on Roden to make it 3-0 after the first 6 minutes of the second and end Roden's night. The Cents were put in the tough situation of throwing affiliate goaltender Jackson Glassford into the net, a player that hadn't seen a single second of BCHL action up to that point. He allowed one goal early on in his tenure, but seemed to settle down after that. Jackson Munro took the first penalty of the game that wasn't coincidental for a high stick, and short a man the Cents finally answered with a beautiful shorthanded breakaway from Brad Cocca to the backhand. The Smoke Eaters took themselves off the powerplay by taking 2 runs at Glassford within a minute, and went off for goaltender interference. The period ended with a 4-1 score.

The Cents came out with more jump in the third, and got an early goal from Daniel Tkac to give them a shot in the arm. Payton Matsui streaked down the right wing, pulled to his backhand and centered for Tkac who threw the puck past Buskey to make it 4-2 just 2 minutes into the third. Despite good pressure and repeated chances, the Cents couldn't muster any more offense in the period. There was a stretch of 9 minutes of play where the Cents couldn't get a whistle and despite the free flowing play, and the chances it created, it ate up too much of the clock. The Smoke Eaters would add an empty netter for the 5-2 victory.

The Cents now trail 2-1 in the best of seven series, and one of the league's best offenses has been held to 8 goals over 3 games. The Smoke Eaters have scored the most goals in the Interior Division bracket of the playoffs, and have the best goal differential of plus 4. Every other series is either even, or plus or minus 1. The first shift after a goal is so important throughout the year, but it's magnified in the playoffs. The Cents need to be able to quickly seize momentum back, and answer with a goal of their own after a Smoke Eaters goal. They can't afford to allow 2, let alone 4 goals unanswered. Goaltending needs to bounce back, and the Cents could be helped out immensely if for the first time in the series they could score the first goal of the game.

History shows that this season the Cents have only lost 3 games in a row once, and that loss came in overtime. They'll need to show resilience, play a little more physical, and play with the confidence we're used to seeing from the Cents.

Matt Kopperud continues to lead the charge for the Centennials in the playoffs with 3 goals and 1 assist, Nick Granowicz has a goal and a helper, and Payton Matsui has set up two goals.

The Smoke Eaters have gotten big games from Tyler Ghirardosi who has 2 goals and 4 assists, Kent Johnson has 3 goals and an assist, and Mack Byers has 2 goals and 2 assists.

The special teams battle becomes all the more crucial in the playoffs with the referees hesitant to call anything that isn't blatantly a penalty.

Powerplay:                                     Penalty Kill:

Trail - 33.3% (4th)                         Trail - 75% (11th)

Cents - 25% (8th)                          Cents - 66.7% (13th)

The goaltending battle sees the Cents between a rock and a hard place. Austin Roden is in need of a bounce back, and the Cents don't really have anyone else to turn to. Vincent Duplessis is still recovering from injury, and AP Jackson Glassford is an unproven commodity. Roden has been the teams rock all season, and will need to prove why he got a late commitment from Nebraska - Omaha. He's now 1-2 with a .868 SV% ad a 4.11 GAA. Donovan Buskey has stolen the starters position for now and is 2-1 with a .929 SV% and a 2.67 GAA.

Assistant Coach Brandon Shaw says that he is feeling more confident about the group after game 3 than game 2.

"I can see the resolve in the team, I can see the heart, and I can see the effort. We just need to put it all together for Game 4."

The Cents need to use the confidence they've had all season to pull out a series tie tonight.

Puck Drop 7pm. Pre-Game 6:45 on Q101.1FM and with Jared Thomas.

Catch a watch party in Merritt at the Grand Pub and Grill.

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Cents post March 5

The Merritt Centennials came into game 3 looking to take the series lead, but instead got their goaltender chased in a 5-2 loss.

For the first time in the series, there were no goals and no penalties after the first period of play. Early on it looked to be a goaltending duel with Austin Roden stopping 10 shots, and Donovan Buskey keeping all 13 he faced out of the net.

The goaltending battle didn't last into the second period, the Smoke Eaters scored 3 goals in the first 6 minutes to chase Austin Roden from the crease and force affiliate player Jackson Glassford into action. Glassford took a while to adjust to his first taste of BCHL action, and allowed a goal in his first 6 minutes of action, but from then on the Cents started to seize back momentum. Jackson Munro took a high sticking call after the goal against, and the Cents situation seemed to go from bad to worse. Then Brad Cocca happened. On the penalty kill, Head Coach Joe Martin elected to put Cocca and Nick Granowicz on the ice, and after a Cocca steal he broke in from the left wing side with a move to the back hand tucked it past Buskey to get the Cents on the board. The Cents would go 4-on-4 shortly thereafter because Chase Stevenson repeatedly ran young Glassford. The Cents would finish the period trailing by 3, 4-1. Shots after 2 were 28-18.

The Cents got a breath of life early in the third period when Payton Matsui flew down the right wing, and centered onto the tape of Daniel Tkac who beat Buskey upstairs to get the Cents within 2. Despite pouring the pressure on, and creating chances, the Cents would go unrewarded and the Smokies would ice the game with an empty netter to make it a 5-2 final. Final shots were 42-27.

The Cents now trail the best of 7 series 2 - 1 and will play a pivotal game 4 tomorrow night at 7pm. A win and they head back to Merritt tied, a loss and they find themselves in a 3-1 hole.

Puck drop tomorrow night from the Trail Memorial Arena at 7pm.

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With the series now tied at 1-1, the Merritt Centennials have arrived to face the Trail Smoke Eaters in Game 3 of their first round series.

The Cents are trying to recapture the high of Game 1, while moving on from the low of Game 2. The team is facing their first bit of adversity and they might as well get it out of the way early, but it's also the first bit of adversity in 7 games or almost a month of hockey. One thing that seeps in on a winning streak at times is complacency. The Cents needed a wake up call, they got it in Game 2, and now it's time to see if they will answer the bell.

In Game 1, a strong start went unrewarded and Trail was able to convert on their first chance and took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission. The second was a different story as Matt Kopperud scored in the first and last minute of the period, and Mike Van Unen added a powerplay marker in the middle to give the Cents a 3-2 edge after 2. Nick Granowicz got some late insurance to get a two goal edge late in the game, and the Cents hung on for the 2 goal victory.

Game 2 started much the same. Solid Cents pressure to begin with, but Trail scoring on one of their first chances, and then tallying on a PP as well in the first. Kopperud was able to bulge the twine on a PP goal for the Cents to make it 2-1 after 1, but it started to unravel after that. The Cents were guilty of not having a team effort, not making the simple play, and as a result not being able to muster much offensively at all. Time after time they tried to dangle into the zone, and were quickly checked by the Smoke Eaters at the blue line and the puck was cleared down the ice. The Cents surrendered another goal in the 2nd to go down 3-1 before getting back within one early in the first on a wraparound try from Rylan Van Unen. The Cents couldn't seize the momentum surrendered a breakaway goal, and another PP goal to lose the game 5-2.

Early on in the series, at least on the road, it seems the Smoke Eaters game plan has been to clear pucks quickly, up the wall, off the glass, through the air whenever the puck is in their defensive zone. This strategy has neutralized one of the Cents biggest weapons - their forecheck. The Cents will now need to adapt, up the intensity, and simply have the bigger will to win to come out with at least a split in Trail. We could see some changes made to the group up front.

The Cents are getting a solid performance from Matt Kopperud as he has 3 goals early in the series, Nick Granowicz has a goal and a helper, and Brendan Schneider has helped set up 2 goals.

The Smoke Eaters are led by Mack Byers who has 2 goals and an assist, Tyler Ghirardosi has a goal and 2 helpers, and rookie Kent Johnson has 2 goals.

It didn't take long for the special teams game to swing back into the Smoke Eaters favour, the Cents will hope the pendulum swings back their way for Game 3.

Powerplay:                                       Penalty Kill:

Trail - 40% (3rd)                              Trail - 71.4% (8th)

Cents - 28.6% (9th)                        Cents - 60% (13th)

The goaltending duel sees Austin Roden also looking to rebound after his first loss in nearly a month. Roden is 1-1 with a .887 SV% and a 3.50 GAA. Donovan Buskey returns home with a 1-1 record, a .915 SV% and a 3.00 GAA.

Head Coach Joe Martin was not happy with his teams effort in game 2.

"We were too cute at times, we were looking for a play that wasn't there, that I was saying wasn't there for the whole game. We need to change it up."

The Cents will hope to bring the effort tonight.

Puck Drop 7pm. Pre-Game 6:45 on Q101.1FM and with Jared Thomas. Check out the Cents watch party at the Grand Pub and Grill or the Merritt Desert Inn to cheer on the home town team with friends and fans.

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The Centennials found themselves in familiar territory against the Trail Smoke Eaters on Saturday night in game 2, but they couldn't replicate their success of game 1 falling 5-2 in regulation.

The first period was much the same as a night ago, a string of good chances for the home side, and then one rush the other way and it was in the back of the Centennials net. Mack Byers let loose a wrist shot as he crossed the line, and it went post and in past the blocker of Roden to make it 1-0. Byers would add another on the PP later in the frame with just 2 seconds left to give the Smoke Eaters their first two goal lead of the series. The Cents came back with a power play marker of their own, when Mathieu Gosselin ran into a road block at the blue line, but fed the puck forward to Nick Granowicz, who found Matt Kopperud in the slot and he best Donovan Buskey low-glove to get the Cents back in it 2-1. That's how the first period would end with shots 14-9 in favour of the Cents.

The middle frame did not go the Centennials way, as they could not get an iota of extended zone time. Trying to come over the line with dangle after dangle, the Smoke Eaters would watch them come and turn them back with quick exits time after time. The only line that could sustain any zone time was the energy line, and Matsui, Sabin, and Van Unen. Trevor Zins would add to the Smoke Eaters lead and restore the 2 goal edge with another shot quickly taken across the blue line beating Roden to make it 3-1. After 2 the shots were 25-19 in favour of the Cents.

The third started the way the Cents wanted it to - an early wraparound goal from Rylan Van Unen snuck past Buskey and in to bring the Cents back within one. However, the Cents quickly gave the lead back after an ill advised pinch at centre, and a strip by rookie Kent Johnson. Johnson went in all alone after Jackson Munro blew a tire on the back check, and had Roden at his mercy move forehand, backhand, last second forehand for the highlight reel goal that broke the Cents spirit. The Smoke Eaters added another on the PP to make it 5-2, and the Cents couldn't muster an answer. Final shots were 34-31 Cents.

After the game a very salty Head Coach Joe Martin didn't have much good to say about his team.

"I thought the bottom six played well, and played the right way, but I didn't like our veterans, they were too cute with the puck."

The Cents will try and get back to basics when the series resumes in Trail on Tuesday.

It means that there will definitely be a game 5 in Merritt next Friday March 8th, and you can get tickets on Monday at the Centennials marketing office.

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