The World Junior 'A' Hockey Challenge is approaching and the Merritt Centennials will have two representatives among the 60 when main camp opens on December 2nd.
One of them has already made the team as Head Coach and General Manager of the Cents Joe Martin was named an Assistant Coach for Canada West early last month, but the lone player from the Centennials that will get the opportunity to play for team Canada is forward Rylan Van Unen.
With 7 goals and 4 assists throughout the season, Van Unen has shown flashes of brilliance, and possesses one of the best shots on the team to go along with break away speed. He's also not afraid of physicality as he's second on the team with 35 penalty minutes on the year. Martin says the speed and skill will help, but the grit is what Canada West could be looking for.
"You know in order for him to make the team, he has to play very hard, play in straight lines, finish his checks, and bring a 4th line mentality to that group. Going through the selection process, and the players that are on the list, I don't think there's a heck of a lot of that."
Canada West last won the title in 2015, and Canada East was runner up last year.
The Cents rode a strong first period of play where they got 4 goals from 4 seperate goal scorers and made those count as they skated to a 4-1 win over the Alberni Valley Bulldogs.
The party started just 3:19 into the game when Brendan Schneider got a loose puck behind the net to Nick Wicks who found his running mate Zach Court in the slot, and Court fired one mid-blocker on John Hawthorne who got the start for the Bulldogs.
6 minutes later the Cents were able to get another tally 5-on-5 this time it was the veteran Chase Bell with his 1st since returning from injury. Assists went to Zach Zorn and Sam Miller.
The Cents got their first powerplay of the game just 30 seconds later, and were able to bulge the twine. This time Joey Berkopec did the honors going up top on Hawthorne to chase him from the game, he was set up by Tyrell Buckley and Wicks.
That brought former Cent, Colten Lancaster into the game, but he didn't fare any better at least in the beginning as one of the first shots he faced went in. With the Cents on another man advantage, Sam Miller was able to roof one from the middle of the ice after playing give and go with Henry Cleghorn at the points.
That would be all for goal scoring in the first, and the Cents had one of their most healthy leads heading into the second, however, Jack Vincent took a penalty at the end of the 1st and that was foreshadowing for what was to come in the 2nd.
In the second period, 14 penalties were called, the game was slowed down to a grinding halt, the Cents were up, they were 4-on-4, they had 5-on-3's, they were short handed, but they weren't able to get anything going with the man advantage in the second. The Bulldogs were the only team that managed to score in the second, after a toe drag around a Cents defender by Christian Simeone, Cole Poliziani took the pass and got it through Jacob Berger who got the start for the Cents.
In the third, the Cents were hungry for more than the third, but the penalties continued to pile up. No goals were scored in the third, but Assistant Coach Brandon Shaw says he likes the way the team played in the period.
"We talked a lot about playing hard in the third, and not taking the foot off the pedal, and I think the boys delivered."
The teams combined for over 110 penalty minutes, that without including a scuffle between Mitch Oliver and Tyrell Buckley to end the third.
The Cents next play on the road in West Kelowna to take on the Warriors for the third time this year.
The Cents won't have time to think about last nights contest against the Vernon Vipers as they will look forward to tonight's challenge, the Alberni Valley Bulldogs.
Once again it's a very even matchup on paper, the Bulldogs and Centennials both with 19 points on the season, the Dogs with 2 more ties, the Cents with one more win.
The last time these two teams played eachother was only two weeks ago on the Island swing, where the Bulldogs were the only team the Cents couldn't manage to top. The game went scoreless through the first period, the Cents were outshot 17-4 and got some stellar goaltending from Austin Roden. In the second, the Cents scored two powerplay goals, and one shorthanded marker for a 3 goal lead, but in the third luck turned against them where two goals went off their own defenseman, and one goal was a glaring giveaway up the slot. Overtime didn't settle anything, and the teams had to settle for a 3-3 tie.
Since that 3-3 tie the Bulldogs have lost 3 straight to Victoria, Nanaimo, and Trail respectively, while the Cents have one win, but have followed it with two straight losses and look to avoid a 3rd straight tonight.
On the Powerplay the Cents continue to improve now up to 21.9% with the man advantage and 4th in the league, Alberni Valley is 11th with a 17.5% conversion rate. On the penalty kill, the roles are reversed as the Bulldogs are 4th in the league with an 83.5% kill rate, while the Cents are 10th with 81.5%.
The Bulldogs are lead offensively by a defenseman for the time being, Mitchell Oliver with 15 points, and have 8 players with over 10 points on the year, with four of them being rookies. Keaton Mastrodonato and Captain Ryan Steele are tied for second with 14 points.
The Cents are led offensively by the dynamic duo in Zach Zorn and Henry Cleghorn, with 19 and 18 points, and now boast 10 players with over 10 points, with four rookies help carry the load. Mathieu Gosselin and Ashton Stockie lead the rookies in scoring with matching 4 goal and 10 assist seasons so far.
The Bulldogs could turn to a goaltender who's familiar with the Cents and the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena in Colten Lancaster. In 10 games this year he's 1-8-0-1 with an .877 save percentage and a 4.16 GAA, however he did play strongly against the Cents in the last game in Alberni. John Hawthorne has the sexier numbers with a 6-5-0-2 record, 92.1% and a 2.83 GAA.
After turning to Austin Roden last night, and he was phenomenal keeping the Cents in the game, Head Coach Joe Martin will likely go with Jacob Berger tonight. Berger is 7-10-2-0 in 19 games played this year with a .913 save percentage and a 3.15 GAA.
Assistant Coach Matt Samson says the quest to get back on track starts tonight.
"Focus for us is to get a strong start at home, I think it's a matter of getting on these guys early, and we need to realize that all these points are important no matter if it's Surrey, Vernon, or Alberni Valley and it starts tonight."
Puck Drop 7pm, Pre Game at 6:45 with Jared Thomas on Q101.1FM or stream live on your desktop or device at q101.ca.
The Vipers threw everything and the kitchen sink at Austen Roden, who made his first home start for the Centennials, and he kept the Cents in the game, but didn't get the offense he needed to end with the W. The Vipers ended up hanging on in the third period for a 3-2 win.
The Vipers struck at the 7:56 mark off a Chris Jandric point shot, Jordan Sandu found the rebound and was able to get it past Roden for the first goal of the game.
There wouldn't be another goal in the first period, but the Cents found the board early in the second on a powerplay that carried over. Henry Cleghorn found the puck at the side of the net after a shot from Zach Zorn bounced off the boards behind the net, and he was able to backhand it past Anthony Yamnistsky.
The tie game would last until midway through the second period when a controversial goal was scored at the 10:30 mark. After a turnover at the line by the Vipers, the puck was sent down low to Jesse Landsdell and after his odd angle shot he crashed the net, and Prokop was able to put it past a possibly interfered with Roden.
Moments later Roden made a huge save on a 2-on-0 to keep the game within one, but at the 18:07 mark the Vipers got the 2 goal lead on a shot from the point from Jandric that was deflected on by Brett Stapley and Roden made the initial stop before Jimmy Lambert was able to bat in the rebound.
The Cents got the lone goal of the third period, after Chase Bell and Brad Cocca caused a turnover behind the net and crashed it, and Brendan Schneider was there to find the rebound to make things close. However, the Cents couldn't complete the comeback to get the tie and the Vipers hung on to the 3-2 lead.
Austin Roden got 1st star in the losing effort making 48 saves on 51 shots.
After the game Assistant Coach Matt Samson said that the Cents were looking for a little too much.
"We were looking to make that 5 foor pass and skate it out, but we were just looking for too much and weren't making the simple plays. We were hemmed in a little too much in our zone and that led to the shot total"
The Cents were outshot 51-23. They'll look for a better outting tomorrow against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs when they bark into town. Puck drop at 7pm and Pre Game at 6:45 with Jared Thomas on Q101.