Just a week after the last matchup between these two clubs, the Vipers and Cents meet once again, and Merritt is still searching for their first win against the top team in the BCHL.
Most recently the Cents dropped a 2-0 decision, in a game with lots of neutral zone play and not a whole lot of offense. The lone tally with Jacob Berger in net came on the powerplay, a drop pass to Jimmy Lambert from Brett Stapley as the Vipers crossed the blue line, and Lambert was able to fire one blocker side on Berger to get the 1-0 lead. The Cents had trouble finding offense, but had opportunities on breakaways, a powerplays throughout the game, but couldn't convert, and late in the game Vipers Captain Jagger Williamson capped things off with an empty netter.
The Cents are coming off a hard fought loss to the Penticton Vees on Wednesday night, a game in which they led or were tied for 45 minutes of the game, but the Vees only needed one chance to seize the lead and hung on from there. Matt Kopperud had the lone goal of the first, the Vees answered in the second early, Joey Berkopec scored from the half-wall, and Matthieu Gosselin converted on the powerplay to make it 3-1. The Vees got some fortunate bounces to tie it at 3's before Captain Owen Sillinger capitalized at a turnover at the blue line in the third to get the eventual game winner 4-3.
The Vipers come into this one with only one game under their belt since last Friday, a 3-2 loss to the Spruce Kings at the Vernon Civic Centre, a game in which they honored many former Vipers, and people surrounding the organization. The Vipers will have some extra motivation tonight as long-time owner Duncan Wray passed away just yesterday. Under Wray's stewardship the Vipers won 4 National Championships, and 7 BCHL Championships since 1992. I never got the pleasure of meeting him, but from what I'm told he was a great ambassador for junior hockey, and wanted the boys who played for his team to pursue their dreams and get an education. May he rest in peace.
The Cents are only two points up on the Salmon Arm Silverbacks for 6th in the division, while the Vipers sit in top spot and are the first team to clinch a playoff spot in the BCHL. The Vipers have made a couple more moves since last Friday, bringing in forward Derek Brown from the Bonnyville Pontiacs of the AJHL for Sol Seibel, Brown had 38 poins in 30 games played for Bonnyville before the trade. Also, Sam Anzai was traded to Prince George for future considerations.
Henry Cleghorn (36) and Zach Zorn (35) continue to lead the way for the Merritt Centennials, but the hottest hand of late has been rookie Matthieu Gosselin, now up to 25 points and has 3 powerplay goals in his last 2 games. The Cents will need to convert on some powerplays against the Vipers if they want to come away with a win. The Cents now 10th on the powerplay with 18.3%, the Vipers in 8th at 19.5%. On the penalty kill, the Vipers 6th with 83.3% the Cents 9th with 82%
For the Vipers it's the same old snipers, Jimmy Lambert (45), Jagger Williamson (41), and Brett Stapley (40) represent the top players, but the Vipers are built on depth. With their acquisitions before the deadline, there's a reason why they are tops in the league, and their healthy respect for any opponent has been what's kept them ahead night in and night out.
In net, the Vipers still have the top tandem in the league. Ty Taylor leads the way with a record of 16-3-0-3, a 1.90 GAA, and a 92.9 SV% with 5 shutouts, one against the Cents. Anthony Yamnitsky is 11-7-0-1 record with a 91.8 SV%, a 2.15 GAA, and 2 shutouts. The Cents will most likely swap back to Austin Roden tonight, 7-6-0-2 with a 2.84 GAA and a 92.3 SV%. Jacob Berger is fresh off the heels of a college committment to Minnesota State University, so congratulations to him as next season he will be playing for the Mavericks in division one NCAA hockey. He's 10-16-2-0 with 2 shutouts this season, a 91.0 SV% and a 3.25 GAA.
It's another tall task for the Centennials tonight, but one they look to meet.
Puck drop 7pm, Pre-game 6:45 with Jared Thomas on Q101.1FM or online a q101.ca.
Jacob Berger, the Cents netminder, has earned himself a scholarship to a Division one program in the NCAA.
Berger will be going to Minnesota State University to play for the Mavericks in Mankato, Minnesota.
With a record of 10-16-2-0 this season, a .910 SV% and a 3.25 GAA, Berger has been one of the best players for the Centennials this season.
He is expected to report for the 2018-19 season.
The Cents led for a large portion of the game Wednesday night against the Penticton Vees, but the lead only had to change once for the Vees to take the game 4-3.
The first period saw the Cents with the lone tally of the frame, just over 6 minutes in off a turnover at the line by Brendan Schneider he threw a shot on that was partially blocked, and Matt Kopperud found the loose puck and backhanded it past Adam Scheel for the first goal of the game, and the only goal of the period.
In the second, the Vees answered early with a goal by Massimo Rizzo at the 2 minute mark, which came following a huge stop by Jacob Berger after a point shot was deflected.
Midway through the second, the Cents regained the lead when Joey Berkopec fired a shot from the right side wall, that deflected off a Vees defender and under the blocker of Scheel to make it 2-1.
A few minutes later, on a powerplay, Matthieu Gosselin blasted a shot from the top of the left circle that beat Scheel clean on the glove side for his 3rd powerplay goal in 2 games.
The Vees continued to push and were able to get timely goals from Marcus Mitchell, as he shot one from the high slot on the rush over the glove side of Berger, and Taylor Ward, who found the puck in the blue paint off a partial block by Jackson Munro.
That left the third with things tied at 3’s, but just 4 minues in after a turnover at the line by Kenny Johnson, Ryan Sandelin retrieved the puck and played it down low for Vees Captain Owen Sillinger who was all alone below the hash marks and made Berger pay with a move to the backhand in tight making it 4-3.
Despite chances in the third to tie, the Cents couldn’t convert and now fall to 1-4 since the Christmas break.
The next game up, the Vernon Vipers at home on Friday night.
The Centennials are in Penticton tonight to take on a Vees squad who sits in the middle of the pack of the crowded Interior Division. The 1st place Vipers sit 6 points clear of the pack following them. The Wenatchee Wild, Trail Smoke Eaters, and Penticton Vees all seperated by just a point, and the Centennials looking to get back to .500 once again, currently sitting in 6th.
The Penticton Vees and Centennials haven't met since mid-October, and in that game Brad Cocca, just newly acquired, got the Cents on the board in the second with a powerplay goal, the Vees answered early in the third before Rylan Van Unen replied to regain the lead. The Vees would get two more in quick succession to overcome the Cents 4-2. So far the Cents have yet to top their arch rival from Penticton going 0-3, the other losses a 3-2 OT loss at home, and a 4-2 loss in the season opener.
The Vees have gone through a metamorphisis since the last time these two teams have played. Greg Brydon, defenseman, retired from hockey, the Vees signed Jordan Henderson, who they acquired from the Cents, they signed Ocean Wiesblatt and Michael Campoli from the NCAA, they traded big defenseman Joseph Leahy for big forward Marcus Mitchell, and more recently signed Wyatt Sloboshan from the WHL, and added James Miller. Plus they'll have Captain Owen Sillinger back after serving a two-game suspension and Chris Klack will return from injury. Injuries left the Vees decimated for a while, but as they get healthy they are deeper than when they started the season.
The Cents on the other hand have gone through very few changes since mid-October, they acquired Austin Roden from the Nanaimo Clippers, but have been content to let chemistry build amongst their group. However, they did make some moves on Monday, trading Jack Vincent to the Janesville Jets of the NAHL and re-acquiring leading goal scorer from last season Zach Risteau. Risteau had 50 points in 53 regular season games with the Cents, and added 3 goals and 1 assist in the playoff push. Newcomer Risteau has been practicing on a line with Brad Cocca, and Rylan Van Unen, and we could see that to start the game.
The Cents are coming off a 4-2 victory over the Salmon Arm Silverbacks which snapped a 3 game losing skid since the Christmas break, Matthieu Gosselin had two powerplay goals, Zach Zorn and Brendan Schneider had the others. Zorn and Henry Cleghorn continue to lead the way for the Cents with 35 points each, but the Cents now have 8 players over 20 points including 3 rookies: Gosselin, Schneider, and Ashton Stockie.
The Vees are coming off 2 wins at home, and are in the midst of a 4 game homestand. They're led offensively by Owen Sillinger (37), defenseman Nicky Leiverman (29), Taylor Ward (27) and Dakota Boutin (26).
The special teams matchup sees the Vees with the edge, tops in the league on the penalty kill at 88%, and 4th on the powerplay at 21.3%. The Cents meanwhile are 9th in both categories, 18.2% on the powerplay with two goals in their last game, and 82% on the penalty kill. Zach Risteau might provide some help to the powerplay unit, as last season he scored 11 powerplay goals along with 10 powerplay assists, for nearly half his point total.
Adam Scheel of the Vees continues to be one of the league leaders in net. 16-9-0-2 with a 2.03 GAA and a 93.3 SV%, however the Cents have seen their fair share of Nolan Hildebrand this season. He's 8-2 with a 90.8 SV% and a 2.60 GAA. Merritt will turn to Jacob Berger in the crease tonight, his last start was a hard fought loss to the Vernon Vipers in which he allowed only one goal to the top team in the BCHL. Berger is now 10-15-2-0 with a 91 SV% and a 3.22 GAA.
Head Coach Joe Martin says that the Cents will have to look past the distractions.
"There's going to be some minds wandering before the game, but we'll have a talk about the focus being on the 2 points that are on the line against the Vees, and we can't afford to worry about the trade deadline."
The Cents will focus on getting those 2 points against one of their biggest rivals tonight.
Puck drop at 7pm, Pre-game at 6:45 with Jared Thomas on Q101.1FM or online at q101.ca.
The CJHL Prospects game will have a Merritt connection.
Although no players were named to the Junior A top prospect game, the Centennials GM and Coach Joe Martin will be behind the bench.
Martin says that this isn't your typical All-Star Game.
"These young kids are draft eligible players, the team is being picked by Central Scouting, it's full of NHL scouts, and the idea is to get the players to compete extremely hard, and focus on being on the players they are, not the skilled all-star NHL format fans are used to seeing."
Martin adds that he won't get much time to implement strategy with only one meeting before the game to get the players to compete.
"Collectively, if they can help eachother in that game, it will help their own stake when it comes to an NHL tryout or the draft."
The CJHL Prospects game will be January 23rd in Mississauga, Ontario.