Merritt Centennials
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The Cents got an outburst of goals, unfortunately it came in the third period when the game was already out of reach as they fell to the Salmon Arm Silverbacks 7-4 at the Shaw Centre on Friday night.

The first period didn’t start well as the Silverbacks got on the board early courtesy their Captain Grayson Constable. He found a lose puck to the side of the Centennial net, and put it in the empty cage as Jake Berger was caught out of position after an early scramble in front. The Cents weren’t able to spend much time in the offensive zone, as the Silverback D were very aggressive at the offensive blue line and in neutral ice and allowed only 4 shots on net in the 1st period. The Silverbacks got another one in the first from Tanner Campbell, who was able to find another rebound in front of Berger to make it 2-0 after 20 minutes of play.

In the second period Rhett Kingston got on the board for the Silverbacks not as early as they did in the first, but 3 minutes in. He was able to walk out to the high slot between the circle after curling from behind the net, and got his team leading 6th goal of the season. The Silverbacks then got an opportunity on the powerplay and made the Cents pay, this time Trey Thomas fired a backhander up and over Berger to make it 4-0. Alex Bourhas answered at the 13:15 mark of the second period with a backhander of his own, the assists coming from Mckullen Astill and Henry Cleghorn. After taking a hit from 3 Silverback players Bourhas got up and went to the net, Cleghorn played behind for Mckullen Astill and he fed it out in the slot for Bourhas. That’s how the second period ended with the score 4-1.

Three unanswered goals started the third period from the Salmon Arm Silverbacks. Goals from Markus Mitchell, a second of the night from Tanner Campbell, and a first of the BCHL from Nick Unruh before the Cents offense finally came to life. It started after a series of penalties from both teams left the Silverbacks with a 4-3 advantage. Shorthanded Rylan Van Unen was able to use the open ice to his advantage streaking wide on the left wing before cutting to the net, getting in tight on Bo Didur, then pulling it from his forehand back to chip it up and over the blocker. That started a late game flurry from the Cents as Nick Wicks gained the line on the left side with Ashton Stockie streaking on the right side. Wicks was able to saucer it right onto the tape of Stockie who blasted it top corner on Didur to make it 7-3, but the Cents weren’t done there. With time expiring in the third, Jackson Munro pinched in on the left point and threw out a centering pass that went off a Silverback defender and in for his first in the BCHL to make it 7-4.

After the game, Head Coach Joe Martin said his team didn’t make the adjustment to the Silverbacks’ defensive style until too late.

“Their defense was playing really aggressive on the offensive blueline and in the neutral zone, and we took too long to recognize that as a group. We had to make the simple play and chip it behind them.”

The Cents will look to simplify their game as they head into a 3 game week after the Thanksgiving long weekend. Prince George on Wednesday, followed by Penticton on Friday, before a home game against Wenatchee on Saturday.  

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The Cents are coming off their most successful week in the 2017-18 season. They not only got their first win of the season, they converted on their first powerplay of the season, multiple players got their first goals in the BCHL, and now they are on their first win streak of the season and look to stay hot against the Silver backs.

The Silverbacks started the season off in a very similar fashion to the Cents, losing four straight games before finding the win column at the BCHL Showcase. They rallied off 3 games in a row against Cowichan Valley, Surrey, and Coquitlam before coming back to earth against Trail last week. Both teams have the same 3-2 record over the last 5 games.

The teams split the preseason series 1-1 with Merritt winning the opener 7-4 before falling to the Silverbacks away from the Nicola Valley. Last season the Silverbacks had the edge head to head, as they went 4-3 against the Cents, but 5 of those games were decided by one goal so expect a tight matchup.  

On paper, the teams look pretty close. Both with 3 wins, the Cents with one more game, and one more loss on the year, but with a win could leap frog the Silverbacks. Both teams have scored 26 goals this season, but it’s the Centennials who have the better team defense allowing 8 fewer goals than Salmon Arm. The Silverbacks hold the edge on the Powerplay with a 22% conversion rate, while the Cents are converting on 15.9% of their chances. On the penalty kill, the Cents have the edge with a 79.6% killing rate, while the Silverbacks are at 74.4%. The Cents also have 2 shorthanded goals to their credit while Salmon Arm doesn’t have any. And Finally, Both teams haven’t won a game against the Interior Division this season, so that will be a stat that ends tonight for one team.

Head Coach Joe Martin says that he also has noticed the similarities between the teams.

“Salmon Arm had a similar start to us, they found the win column a bit quicker than we did so they’re riding a momentum swing like we are, so it will be a good game.”

The Cents will look to keep the good times rolling before the Thanksgiving weekend, and continue their winning streak as they visit Salmon Arm tonight. Join Jared Thomas for Puck Drop at 7, Pre Game at 6:45 On Air at 101.1 FM, online at q101.ca, or on the Q101 Merritt App.  

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Yesterday afternoon, the BCHL unveiled its new playoff format in which 16 of 17 teams will now make the post season. 

BCHL Communications Director Brent Mutis says the move was made to eliminate the first round bye that was given to the top two seeds in the league last year. 

"Let's just make sure everyone's playing in the first round of the playoffs that qualifies for the playoffs, and I think that was the biggest impetus for why we changed from last year's format to this years."

With 16 teams making it to elimination hockey, Mutis says that you can still expect elite play throughout the season.

"There's too much on the line for these players in terms of them wanting to advance their playing careers. They're going to go out and play hard because they know that scouts from the college level and NHL level are watching them play."

Mutis also adds that it will keep more teams in the playoff race battling for seeding towards the end of the season. 

In the new format, if the playoffs started today, the Cents would be the 7th seed in the Interior division and would face the Trail Smoke Eaters in the first round. 

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The Centennials as a team had a great week going three for three on a homestand, but a couple players stood out enough to get noticed by the BCHL. 

Goaltender Jacob Berger, who got credit for all three wins, stopped 77 of 80 shots had a .963 save percentage and a goals against average of less than one over the three games. 

Head Coach Joe Martin says that Berger has been a rock for them in net all season, and now that the team is playing better defensively around him it's starting to show. 

"Early on we didn't have great defending, and he was still giving us chances to win. He's been playing well, he's been relaxed, and he's been focused, and in that game where Vincent went down it really showed what Jake had."

The other Cent who got some love from the league is Nick Wicks. In three games Wicks had 2 goals and 3 assists and was the second star of the game twice. Coach Martin says that Wicks has made the most of a tumultuous start to the season.

"He saw an opening at the 1st line centre position, and he's taken it and run with it." 

The Centennials next test comes against the Salmon Arm Silverbacks on Friday night in Salmon Arm. With a win the Cents could leap frog the Silverbacks in the standings and take over 6th in the division.  

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The Merritt Centennials had the toughest test of their 3 game homestand when the Prince George Spruce Kings skated onto the ice for a Sunday afternoon matchup at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena, and they passed with flying colors, in large part, due to their powerplay. The Cents were able to continue their hot end to September and start strong in October with a 5-2 win over the Spruce Kings. 

The first period started off with some back and forth hockey, and no one was able to get an edge until Mattias Dal Monte went to the box for tripping at the 7:19 mark of the first. On the powerplay, the Spruce Kings were able to convert on a low shot from the line that was deflected on by Ben Poisson. The Cents got a powerplay chance of their own, but couldn't answer until the final minute of the period when Zach Court was the recipient of a very favourable bounce off the glass at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena, after a cross-ice play by Tyrell Buckley at centre ice on the left side, the puck bounced off the stantion of the glass all the way back to the left side onto a waiting Court's stick who ripped a shot top corner. 

In the second period, the Spruce Kings would regain the lead, this time with the puck bouncing around in front of Berger. There were multiple opportunities for the Cents to get it out of danger but Kyle Johnson of the Spruce Kings found the puck and put it past Berger to make it 2-1. However, under a minute later Nick Wicks scored a goal from a sharp angle low and under the pad of Evan DeBrouwer who was in complete position to make the save it just snuck underneath him. It was 2-2 after two period of play, but Ben Brar took a spearing penalty at the end of the second that carried over into the third. 

Starting the third with a powerplay, the Centennials were able to convert courtesy Joey Berkopec on a nice feed out front by Ashton Stockie who found Berkopec cheating in from the right point, and he went upstairs on DeBrouwer to give the Cents their first lead of the game. The Cents weren't done there as Nick Sutter went off for holding at the 3:03 mark and the Centennials converted on the powerplay again this time it was Brendan Schneider getting his first in the BCHL from Rylan Van Unen and Stockie. 5 minutes later the Cents got some added insurance off the stick of Jack Vincent who broke into the zone and then completed a give and go play with Zach Court to make it 5-2. 

Head Coach Joe Martin gives credit to the compete level of his team for the win.

"It's a good group of guys in there, they wanna win, they're competitive. They're competitive for icetime, they're competitive for special teams, they all want to be out there at the end of games... Right now it just seems like everyone is clicking." 

The Cents have a couple days off before they face the Salmon Arm Silverbacks, who they are now tied in points with in the standings, on Friday night for an away game before the Thanksgiving long weekend. 

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