The Cents have signed 5 new players out of camp in addition to Talon Zakall, and Jaydon Fetter.
The remaining roster spots all belong to forwards: Daniel Tkac, Nic Granowicz, Brett Roloson, Ben Ward, and Frazer Dodd.
Daniel Tkac has the distinction of being Slovakian/American and can claim roots in Presov, Slovakia despite being born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. Tkac spent last season playing with the Omaha Lancers of the HPHL, but he also participated in the World Junior Under 18s for Slovakia where he put up 1 goal and 2 assists for 3 points. During the regular season with the Lancers, Tkac split time with the Midget team and the under 18 team, but combined for 32 goals, 33 assists and 65 points in 72 games played.
Tkac says that this season he will be looking for his team mates.
"I think I'm a play maker, a bit of a skill guy, I think I can bring a lot of chances to the team, a lot of goals and assists, and help the team win."
Tkac adds that in his brief experience with Merritt, it's the people that are standing out so far.
"A lot of nice people that's for sure. Everywhere I go people just say Hi, and the scenery is gorgeous too."
Nic Granowicz is the most experienced of the Centennials signings out of camp having played 3 years of Junior hockey already in his career. Hailing from Macomb, Michigan, Granowicz joins the Cents after a split campaign with the Toledo Roadrunners of the NAHL and the Cedar Rapids Roughriders of the USHL. He served as Captain of the Roadrunners before moving to the Roughriders, but produced 39 points in 53 games played combined with the two clubs adding 15 goals and 24 assists over the year.
Granowicz says that he has a lot of weapons, but they all centre around speed.
"I play with a lot of speed, hard and fast and on the puck. I think I can contribute in the offensive and defensive zones, and overall be a good help to the team. This is my third year of junior, I've been in a lot of different situations so I think I will be a good resource for the rookies, and when we're in a tough situation in a game hopefully help out and bring us to a win."
Granowicz adds that so far he's enjoying the relaxed pace of Merritt.
"It's a change for me, but I think it's a nice little town. You can get where you need to go very quickly, and everyone is really nice."
Brett Roloson possesses a last name some NHL goaltender buffs may recognize as he is the son of Dwayne Roloson, but the Victoria native has been making a name for himself in the CSSHL where he's impressed at Shawnigan Lake School Prep putting up over a point-per-game pace with 15 goals, 31 assists, for 46 points in 35 games played last season.
Roloson says that he possesses two things you can't teach that he will bring to the team.
"My speed is at the top speed I can reach, my hands are pretty good, and those skills combined with my work ethic will be a big help to the team."
Roloson echoes the sentiments of his new team mates in regards to Merritt.
"It's the people, they're really heartwarming, and help you move in and stuff. It's a small town so everyone knows each other, so it's nice to know that people are keeping an eye on you."
The name Frazer Dodd may not be new to die hard Centennials fans, and that's because the Hazelton, BC native was an Affiliate Player with the Centennials last season getting into 7 games and supplying 4 assists. Dodd spent the majority of the regular season with the 100 Mile House Wranglers of the KIJHL where he supplied plenty of offense with 25 goals, 22 assists, for 47 points in 42 games played. In camp he supplied plenty of fire, and got under the skin of opponents, a role he'll look to continue into the regular season.
Dodd says that his all around skills will serve the Cents well.
"I think my work ethic is one of my strengths, my offensive game is at the strongest it's been, but I'm also pretty aware of my defensive zone."
Dodd adds that it's the people that make Merritt great.
"I just think everyone's so friendly. The people are friendly, the billets are friendly, everyone you meet is always just... super friendly."
Ben Ward didn't have to travel far for camp as he hails from Kamloops, BC, but he did have to work his way onto the team by impressing in camp. Ward last played in the CSSHL with the Delta Hockey Academy and put up 19 goals along with 8 assists for 27 points in 31 games played. He will be the smallest Centennials forward on the roster, but what he lacks in size he makes up for in heart.
Ward says that his game doesn't allow for much time and space.
"I think a big part of my game is to put as much pressure on the D-men as I can, and at the end of the day I want to be able to produce offense out of that too."
Ward adds that he thinks Junior 'A' belongs in Merritt.
"I've enjoyed my time here a lot. I think this is the perfect town for a Junior 'A' club, not too big, not too small, all the people come together in the community and it's perfect."
For the first time since the 2013-14 season, a Merritt local will be on the roster for the Merritt Centennials.
Talon Zakall follows in the footsteps of Payton Schaefer as the first Merrittonian to make the Cents in five years. Zakall played his hockey last season in the CSSHL for the Yale Hockey Academy Elite 15 squad where he recorded 5 goals, 21 assists for 26 points in 35 games.
Head Coach and General Manager Joe Martin says that they've had their eye on Zakall for a while.
"He makes smart plays with the puck, and we always seem to be in a better position offensively when he moves the puck. We noticed that right away in our spring camp back in April, but with a young guy like that you want to make sure they go through the process of how they train, how they come to camp prepared, and how they play instead of just giving him a commitment. I think that Talon has handled that well."
Martin adds that Zakall brings a lot of different tools to the Centennials.
"I think the first thing that jumps out with Talon is his brain. He's a very smart, cerebral player with comparisons to Reece Wilcox and the way that he plays. He's not a bone crushing guy, he's not a one-dimensional offensive guy, he's an all around guy who does a lot of smart things with the puck."
In talking with Zakall, he's just honoured to be a part of history.
"I'm just going to do what I can to help the team, get on the ice as much as I can, make plays, and whatever I have to do to help the team be better. I like to be an offensive defenseman that jumps up in the rush, but always make sure to get back and shut guys down on defense as well. Growing up in the arena, and getting a chance to join the longest running BCHL franchise it's a dream come true."
Zakall joins Daniel Tkac, Nicholas Granowicz, Frazer Dodd, Brett Roloson, and Ben Ward as other players who have made the team out of camp.
The Merritt Centennials wrap their first week of meaningful hockey with a lot of promise, but in exhibition they fall to 0-2 as the Vipers were able to slither past on two occasions this weekend.
On Friday night, it was a goaltending affair until the third, with all goalies who saw action standing tall through two periods of play. Vincent Duplessis looked great in his first meaningful game action in almost a year stopping all shots he faced, and the team was playing well in front of him defensively. Despite a penalty filled second period, the Centennials managed to stay perfect on the penalty kill throughout the game, but cracks showed in the third and the Vipers were able to take advantage with two quick goals. The Cents showed some push back in the final 10 minutes and were able to come within one with a blast from the point from Mattias Dal Monte. Unfortunately, the Vipers were able to ice the game with an empty netter with just over a minute to go.
The follow up game on Saturday saw the Cents take the bus to Vernon, and it was another tight checking affair. With a veteran heavy lineup, the Cents again were having trouble breaking through on the score sheet despite a myriad of chances. Once again it was the Vipers who found the back of the net first, this time on a deflection from Teddy Wooding, it was the only blemish on 16 shots in the first start for Austin Roden. Vincent Duplessis barely got into the game before he fished a puck out of his net as Wyatt Andres was able to beat him five-hole. In the third, the Cents finally got their due as Mathieu Gosselin banged home a rebound from Brendan Schneider, and the line that developed some chemistry over camp with Brad Cocca all got a point on the play. However, it wouldn't be enough as the Cents couldn't rally another goal despite pulling Vincent Duplessis late in the third.
Despite losing both games (3-1 and 2-1 respectively) the Cents out shot the Vipers 90-59 over the two games, Head Coach and General Manager Joe Martin feels like it's a matter of time before his new look line up starts producing results.
"It's still early there has to be some tinkering to be done with lines and figuring things out, but I think the signs look good right now."
Martin adds that coming together as a group is what is important now.
"There's guys out there that are available, we'll see if we want to add anybody at this point, but currently we like this group and it's important to us to start gelling right away and become better as a team."
The Cents will look to be better, and get their first win of the exhibition season on Wednesday when they travel to Prince George to take on the Spruce Kings, and will have a couple full days of practice as a group to work on things.
The Merritt Centennials continue the preseason campaign as they hit the road today to visit the Vernon Vipers for the second half of a home at home series.
Last night the Vipers edged the Cents 3-1, with all goals coming in the third period. Both teams iced a rookie heavy lineup, but tonight will be a different story for the Cents as plenty of veterans will see time. As opposed to last night where there were only 6 veterans in the lineup, tonight there will be only 6 rookies in the lineup: Nic Granowicz and Jaydon Fetter will get their first taste of BCHL action, while Brett Roloson, Josh Van Unen, Ben Ward, and Talon Zakall will get into their second game in a row.
Mathieu Gosselin, Brad Cocca, and Brendan Schneider who developed some chemistry during main camp will get their first opportunity to test it against a higher level of competition, while Nick Wicks will center a line that saw some time in camp as well between Rylan Van Unen and Nic Granowicz. Frazer Dodd draws in again, this time between Matt Kopperud and Christian Sabin, while the youngsters will power the energy line: Brett Roloson between Josh Van Unen and Ben Ward.
The back end will see Joey Berkopec, Jackson Munro, Jaydon Fetter and Colten Gerlib all draw into the lineup and join Mike Van Unen and Talon Zakall who will play back to back. Gerlib looked impressive during camp including a 5 point night, but intrasquad and exhibition are two different beasts.
Austin Roden will make his first start of the preseason, and has looked solid throughout camp. Vincent Duplessis, who stopped all shots he faced last night, will serve as back up and may see half the game as well.
Head Coach and Joe Martin says that the young guys set the bar high last night.
"We have a couple more veterans in the lineup tonight, and their goal is to at least match the effort we saw last night."
The Centennials were looking to start the preseason off with a win, but there were plenty of positives in a narrow 3-1 loss against the Vernon Vipers.
Both teams iced a rookie heavy lineup as they continue to gauge their unknowns, but a couple of the known quantities showed up in the first half of the game: the goaltenders. Vincent Duplessis and Aidan Porter were both perfect through their half of the game, and it continued as Jakob Gullmes and Johnny Derrick took over half way through the second.
It wasn't until the third that pucks started getting past the netminders. Vernon broke the goose egg when Nicholas Wildgoose opened the scoring after a centering feed from Elan Bar-Lev-Wise, and the lead was extended under a minute later by Kyler Shmigelsky.
However, the Cents showed some push back in the final ten minutes of the game and were rewarded for their efforts when Mattias Dal Monte took a feed from Christian Sabin and let loose a cannon from the point that went top shelf. Along with providing some scoring, Dal Monte also provided plenty of sandpaper using his big frame to level attacking Vipers on several occasions.
Ultimately, The Vipers managed to ice the game when Elan Bar-Lev-Wise found the back of the empty net from center with just over a minute to play.
After the game Head Coach and General Manager Joe Martin said that there was a lot to like, but a lot to work on from each player.
"You look up and down the lineup, and I think you can find things that each player did well, but at the same time find something else that they need to work on. Overall, for a first effort I'm very happy with that, and we'll look to continue to improve as a group as we move on through the preseason."
Martin added that they will continue to adjust their roster.
"Tomorrow we will see a few more veterans in the lineup, and we will have to make some hard decisions in the morning."
The changes will come ahead of puck drop against the Vernon Vipers in Vernon tonight at 7pm.