The Merritt Centennials are set to open their preseason when they welcome the Vernon Vipers to the NVMA tonight.
The Centennials slimmed their main camp roster, and now have 30 players vying to make the final roster. Many of those bubble players will be in the lineup tonight as the Centennials coaching staff led by Head Coach Joe Martin and Assistant Coach Brandon Shaw are only opting to dress 6 returning players: Christian Sabin, Matt Kopperud, Rylan Van Unen, Mike Van Unen, Mattias Dal Monte, and Vincent Duplessis.
Up front, Newcomers looking to make a mark on the game include younger brother to the twins Josh Van Unen, Brett Roloson, Andy Moore, Brett Pfoh, Ian Tookenay, Bud Johnson, and Affiliate player from last season Frazer Dodd will anchor the energy line between Ben Ward and Brett Witzke.
On Defense, two Merritt natives will see action as Talon Zakall and Atreyu Johnny both continue to impress, and Kielan Toews and Preston Strafford will look to do the same.
Vincent Duplessis will get his first taste of BCHL action in nearly a year, as he returns to the crease after an injury shortened 2017-18 season, and Jakob Gullmes will likely get to experience half the game as well.
Last season the Vipers proved a stiff test for the Centennials as the team managed a 1-5 record against the perennial Interior Division contenders. However, the one win came on home ice and was a resounding 5-0 win.
Head Coach and General Manager Joe Martin says that he expects his players to compete even though there won't be much of a veteran presence.
"I don't know what Vernon's done through camp... Usually the theme is dressing a lot of young guys and not too many veterans. I'm guessing that will be the story from Vernon and from us - possible first year guys in the league surrounded by some veterans."
The game is the first in a home at home series, with the Cents travelling to Vernon tomorrow to take on the Vipers.
A reminder that season tickets will be available for pick up at the door this evening, and if you get their early between 6:15 and 7pm you'll get them hand delivered by Brendan Schneider, Nick Wicks, and Joey Berkopec.
The intensity, the physicality, and the skill level were high in the final intrasquad matchup of Main Camp as Team White edged Team Red 6-5.
Once again there was a veteran presence in the scoreline, but with one last chance to impress many invitees made the most of it by finding the scoresheet.
Newcomer Tyler Witzke and returnee Brendan Schneider both lit the lamp twice for Team White, with the remaining goals coming from Dante Ballerin and Brad Cocca.
Team Red saw contributions from 5 different scorers: younger brother Josh Van Unen, Jacob Siebenga, Nic Granowicz, Nick Wicks, and Christian Sabin.
Coach and General Manager Joe Martin says he liked the intensity and noticed the younger players battling.
"The intensity was up a bit, we had a chat about how it might be our last opportunity to impress... There were some bright spots for some young guys, and I'm looking forward to getting down in numbers and seeing what we have to work with."
Martin added that the first round of cuts will come soon.
"We'll do that tomorrow, I don't know the magic number we'll get down to, we're at 40 right now we'll probably be closer to 30 or just under and that will lead us into Friday and then we'll take it day by day after that."
It sets the stage for the Cents first test in the exhibition season against the Vernon Vipers at the NVMA Friday at 7pm.
Day 2 of Main Camp saw a return to the traditional team practices with an intrasquad game to cap off the night.
In the Intrasquad game it was Team White who ran up the score with a 10-3 victory over Team Red.
Returning player Brad Cocca led the way for Team White with 3 goals on the night, and got plenty of help from linemates Mathieu Gosselin and Brendan Schneider. Gosselin had 2 goals and an assist, while Schneider provided 2 helpers.
On the blueline, Colten Gerlib had a stand out game with 2 goals and 3 assists.
Overall, Team white saw 8 of their 10 goals come from returning players save for one a piece by newcomers Brett Pfoh and Bud Johnson.
Team Red saw all their contributions come from the blueline as two returning veterans lit the lamp: Mike Van Unen and Mattias Dal Monte to go along with Preston Strafford.
Head Coach and General Manager Joe Martin said other than the scoreline there was plenty to like out there.
"I saw some chemistry starting to develop, especially between that top line for Team White of Cocca, Gosselin and Schneider. Saw some good things from Team Red too despite the score, it will make for some hard decisions for sure."
Martin adds that he expects some decisions to be made following the final intrasquad matchup on Wednesday night, but urges players to work their way onto the team before putting their skills on display.
"These guys may be the best players on their teams, but to make this team they need to put that aside and just bring a simple game plan."
The final game of Main Camp goes Wednesday night before the first exhibition game against the Vernon Vipers on Friday.
The Merritt Centennials have shifted their exhibition schedule to include an extra home game.
Originally, the Cents had planned on partnering with the Prince George Spruce Kings to host a hockey camp and exhibition game in Burns Lake, but due to wildfires in the area and the need of the arena for an evacuation facility the teams had to find a new venue.
The teams have agreed to move the game scheduled for Friday August 31st at 7pm to the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena in Merritt with all the details remaining the same except for the location.
The change means that along with a home game against the Vernon Vipers this Friday August 24th, there will be an additional chance to watch the Cents wrap up their preseason at home on the 31st.
Merritt Centennials began Main Camp with something new.
The Cents were the first to use the new gymnasium and fitness facilities at NVIT for their fitness tests. The 40 players attending camp were split into two groups, Red and White, and pitted against eachother in a series of physical challenges: the grueling beep test, a steady bench press to a metronome, standing long jump, and a last man standing V-up competition.
Standouts in the beep test were veteran Nick Wicks and Brett Pfoh, who each were the last men standing for their respective teams.
Head Coach and General Manager Joe Martin says he was happy with the results of the fitness testing.
"The top 3 finishers were all Centennials, and there were some new players that were sprinkled into the top 10 in each exercise which is nice to see."
The day was capped off with some 3v3 hockey. Team Red topped Team White 11-6 with goals coming from all over the lineup in the test of skill and speed. Former affiliate player Frazer Dodd was among the most impressive with 3 goals on the night.
Martin adds that he will be looking for his players to be living in the moment.
"3 on 3 practice was more about getting their feet and hands working together. A lot of these guys have been on the ice but haven't been on the ice together. Red vs White again tomorrow, and hopefully there's a little more structure."
Day 2 will see both teams practice in the morning followed by a full intrasquad scrimmage at 7pm.