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.
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.
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.
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.
The Merritt Centennials ended September on a high note, and look to continue that momentum into October as the Spruce Kings come to town.
The Cents will face a team that's already gotten the better of them once this season. The Spruce Kings were able to come back and top the Cents at the BCHL Showcase just a week ago. The Centennials learnt some lessons over that showcase, and started to get some chemistry going that has paid off in this homestand where they're starting to find the offensive side of their game. It's paid off on this homestand as Colten Gerlib, Alex Bourhas, Matthieu Gosselin, and Ashton Stockie have all gotten their first goals of the season and now know what it takes to score in the BCHL.
The 2-1 win over the Surrey Eagles on Wednesday saw the Centennials finally get a goal on the powerplay, and they carried that into yesterday's game against the Cowichan Valley Capitals where they went 4/11 on the powerplay. The team finally seems like they have a set plan on the powerplay, and even on powerplay attemptswhere they didn't score the Cents had good puck possession and good puck retrieval.
The Prince George Spruce Kings still remain first in the Mainland Division with 11 points and a 5-2-0-1 record, but since playing the Centennials at the Showcase they were shut out by the Victoria Grizzlies 5-0, they lost to the Surrey Eagles 4-1 on Friday night, and beat the lowly Coquitlam Express last night 5-3. The Spruce Kings are back to their winning ways coming into the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena, but since the last time these two teams met the Spruce Kings have come down to earth a little bit.
After the offensive output, and strong defensive play throughout the season, the Centennials are working back towards an even goals for and goals against differential. Defensively, the teams are similar, with the Spruce Kings only allowing one less goal this season.
The Cents are also buoyed by the play of Jake Berger. He came into action in relief for Vincent Duplessis during the game against the Surrey Eagles, and didn't allow a goal, and only allowed a single goal last night to improve his numbers yet again. His save percentage is now above 90% and his goals against average is just over 3. He will need to continue to be solid as the Spruce KIngs present the stiffest test so far on this homestand.
Looking ahead to the matchup this afternoon, Head Coach Joe Martin says that Prince George does a number of things well.
"They're big up front, they can move pucks well from the back end, and they can attack off the rush, so if we're not good positionally,and we're not putting pucks in the offensive zone we will be on our heels."
Puck drop is at 2pm this afternoon, with Jared Thomas and the Pre Game starting at 6:45. Listen live at 101.1 FM, stream us online at q101.ca, or download the Q101 Merritt app on your mobile device.