The Centennials finish off 2017 with a 15-16-2-1 record, just one game below .500, and considering where they started (0-6) they've done well to get back to even ground.
Halfway through the season we've had a mix of rookies stepping up, veterans improving, timely acquisitions, and solid goaltending to get the Cents in contention in the Interior Division.
While hockey is a team first sport, certain individuals have broken from the pack. Here's my breakdown of Best Rookie, Best Defenseman, MVP, Most Improved, Unsung Hero, and Hardest to Play Against.
Best Rookie: Ashton Stockie - Honorable Mentions: Matthieu Gosselin, Brendan Schneider
Coming into the year with only 8 returning players, it was a forgone conclusion that some rookies would have to elevate their game. A player who stands out for his speed, his playmaking, his tenacity, and his shot is Ashton Stockie. Anchoring a line down the middle is what gives him the edge over Matthieu 'Goose' Gosselin, and Brendan Schneider. Stockie has 19 points on the year (2nd amongst rookies and tied for 6th on the team) with 6 goals, most of those coming from his smooth shot, that's a mix of quick release and pin point accuracy.
Best Defenseman: Tyrell Buckley - Honrable Mentions: Joey Berkopec, Jackson Munro
Tyrell Buckley and Mike Van Unen were the only two returning defenders on the back end this year for the Cents, and the Captain has been the most dominant defender through 2017. A combination of minutes played, his ability to play in any situation, reading the play, providing a physical edge, and chipping in offensively makes Tyrell Buckley the standout on the blue line. With 23 points on the year, he's 4th in team scoring, and is leading by example. When the Cents need to hang onto the lead, or push for the goal you can bet Tyrell Buckley is on the ice.
MVP: Henry Cleghorn - Honorable Mentions: Tyrell Buckley, Jacob Berger, Zach Zorn
With a lot of offense leaving the Cents in the off season to the USHL, one of the big questions coming into the season was who was going to supply the goals? The Cents have responded with their depth up and down the line up, and this award could go to a multitude of players, but once again for anchoring the middle of the ice I will give the edge to Henry Cleghorn. First with Zach Zorn on his wing, one of the turning points of the season may have been splitting up that dynamic duo. More recently with Chase Bell and Matthieu Gosselin, Cleghorn continues to pile up the points. Now just a point behind Zach Zorn with 33 on the year, he's been a pleasant surprise up front, not to mention he notched the Cents only hat trick of the year.
Most Improved: Matthieu Gosselin - Honorable Mentions: Sam Miller, Jack Vincent
Once again this is an award that could have gone to any player on the Cents, but in terms of improvement from the beginning of the season to now Matthieu Gosselin gets the edge. Early on in the year, he was having trouble putting his skills to good use, but now he's become a great play maker with finishing ability using his speed to find open ice for himself or team mates, and he isn't afraid to get into the dirty areas and work for the puck despite being one of the Cents smaller players. He leads rookies in scoring as of the turn of the calendar with 20 points.
Unsung Hero: Jacob Berger - Honorable Mentions: Nick Wicks, Zach Court, Austin Roden
The Cents did have one certainty coming into the season, and that was Jacob Berger coming in to be their number 1. When Vincent Duplessis went down with injury early in the season, Berger had to shoulder an even bigger workload, and briefly led the league in minutes played. He's also the only Centennials player to win Player of the Week honors from the BCHL. Everytime he's between the pipes he gives the team a chance to win.
Hardest to Play Against: Zach Zorn - Honorable Mentions: Brendan Schneider, Joey Berkopec
This is another one that comes down to opinion, but for a player that leads the team in scoring it all comes in the hardworking package of Zach Zorn. Whether it's short handed and leading the league in goals, providing the net front presence on the powerplay, digging for loose pucks, using his speed to breakaway, or using his strength to stand up for team mates (leads the Cents in tussles with 2), Zach Zorn only has one gear and that's all out.
Agree or Disagree?? Leave a comment and let us know who you'd give the awards to!
Cents are next in action against the Coquitlam Express on Wednesday, in Coquitlam at 7pm.
The Centennials had to wait, and wait, and wait to ring in their last game of 2017. After over a 2 hour delay the puck finally dropped in the NVMA as the Express made their first and only appearance to Merritt this season.
In the first the Cents had all sorts of jump, but couldn't beat rookie goaltender Clay Stevenson who got the start for the Express. He stopped all 14 shots thrown his way, while Jacob Berger had limited duty and stopped all 4 shots he faced.
The second saw more action, unfortunately it was on the wrong side of the scoreboard. With a powerplay that carried over from the first the Express were able to capitalize just over a minute in, off a rebound in front Josh Bruce was able to backhand it past Berger to get the games first goal.
The Cents responded by going right back to the box, and the Express went right back to the recipe that got them their first goal. A rebound in front, this time Josh Wildauer was the one to backhand it home in front to make it 2-0, both coming on the powerplay.
The next goal didn't come until midway through the period, but on an Express rush with numbers it was Colby Pederson who was able to shoot a lazer blocker side from the short side up and over Berger, and that ended the Cents netminders night as Austin Roden came in relief.
The move sparked the Cents who were able to score just over a minute later. Joey Berkopec jumped up in the rush and tangled up the Express defender at the offensive blue line. Ashton Stockie was able to walk onto the loose puck, and roof a shot over the glove of Stevenson for the Cents first goal and stop the bleeding making it 3-1.
The third saw the Cents pushing for the equalizer again, and despite lengthy periods in the Express end came up empty handed. Once again the Express capitalized on the counter attack getting a goal from Pederson to make it 4-2.
The Cents answered on the powerplay on a point shot from Tyrell Buckley that found it's way through with Stockie and Zach Zorn provided the net front presence.
Despite the strong third period push, the Cents weren't able to beat Stevenson again, and when they pulled Roden to get the extra attacker they were immediately scored on to make it a 5-2 final.
Head Coach Joe Martin said after the game that the team was trying their best.
"At times we were working hard, but sometimes not hard enough. Despite playing a large part of the game in their end, we weren't committing as much to defense."
The Cents will get a chance for revenge next Wednesday when they travel to Coquitlam for a rematch, and the final game of the season series.
The first game back from the Christmas break, the last game of 2017, and the Merritt Centennials look to finish it off right against a plucky Coquitlam Express squad.
The Express come into Merritt the 5th team in the Mainland Division, and the 16th ranked team in the league at 7-24-1-2, but since making a coaching change in mid November have begun to turn it around under new head coach Jason Fortier. In December they're 4-3 with wins coming over good competition: Victoria, Vernon, Langley, and Powell River (all those teams top, or very close to in their respective divisions).
The Cents look to finish off the year above .500 for the first time this season as they sit 6th in the Interior Division and 13th in the leage at 15-15-2-1. It's been a long road back after starting the season 0-6, but a strong December has the Centennials in a position to get on the winning side of the ledger. Merritt has gone 5-2 so far this month, with their last win coming against the Nanaimo Clippers 4-2.
The Express are led by Eric Linell offensively with 18 goals and 32 points. Alex Ambrosio (25), Sam Kozlowski (19), Joshua Wildauer (17), and Christian Sanda (15) round out the top 5.
The Cents continue to be led by Henry Cleghorn, but he's now joined by Zach Zorn as both players have 33 points. Nick Wicks (25), Tyrell Buckley (22), and Mathieu Gosselin (20) round out the top 5, and the Cents now have 13 skaters above the 10 point plateau.
The special teams match up should be in favour of the Centennials. The Cents 9th on the powerplay with an 18.8% conversion rate, while the Express are 2nd last at 12.1%. The penalty kill sees the Cents in 7th with an 82.4% kill rate, while the Express are 15th in the league at 78.1%.
The Express turn to the goaltending tandem of Brock Hamm and Reid Cooper. Hamm is 4-7-0-1 with a 91.2 SV% and a 3.15 GAA while Cooper is 1-9-0-1 with a 90.5 SV% and a 3.94 GAA.
With this being the lone game of the weekend the Cents have to decide between Jacob Berger and Austin Roden. Berger has carried the load so far for the Cents seeing action in 25 games and going 10-13-2-0 with a 91.1 SV%, a 3.25 GAA and 2 Shutouts. Roden has been phenomenal since being acquired by the Cents going 4-1-0-1 with a 93.9 SV% and a 2.64 GAA.
Assistant Coach Matt Samson says that the Express shouldn't be taken lightly.
"Since they made their coaching change the team is playing a lot better. They're not getting blown out anymore, and they've surprised some teams."
The Cents will try to avoid being surprised by the Express tonight.
Puck Drop at 7pm, Pre Game at 6:45 with Jared Thomas on Q101.1 FM or online at q101.ca.
In the final game before the Christmas break the Cents gutted a game out against the Island Division's Nanaimo Clippers. Austin Roden faced his former club and helped the Cents over come two deficits before grasping the lead for good in the third period and winning 4-2.
The first period only saw one goal, and it came from the Clippers. Brady Lynn was able to cap off a play to the slot, post and in after the Cents got a little too cute in their own end and caused a turnover.
However, in the second the Cents turned it around quickly as just 25 seconds in Brendan Schneider finished off his own play in the slot and was able to beat Taz Burman who got the nod in net for the Clippers.
Just two minutes later the Clippers were able to regain the lead with an odd play on the half wall, where after a scramble a shot was thrown on that deflected off a defenseman in front and Parker Colley got credit for the goal.
The Cents would tie it up at the 8:59 mark, when Colten Gerlib walked in from the right point and fed Matt Kopperud in the slot. He took the puck on his backhand, before quickly spinning and firiing a shot through Burman to tie things back up at 2.
After going more than halfway through the third deadlocked at 2, Zach Zorn finally broke the tie with a power move to the net. Matthieu Gosselin was able to find him streaking to the goal mouth, and feed him with a heavy pass, that he deflected over Burman to make it 3-2.
Brendan Schneider would ice the game with an empty netter with 10 second left.
Neither team was able to convert on the powerplay, which the Centennials will take as a minor victory considering the Clippers led the league in that regard.
After the game, Coach Matt Sampson said the players are looking forward to the break.
"It's a time to rest and reflect, but I'm glad we're at .500 it's a long way from where we started the season and we look forward to facing our tough schedule when we get back."
Cents next game is December 29th against Coquitlam.
The Cents look to head into the Christmas break on a winning note when the Island Division's Nanaimo Clippers come to visit this afternoon, but they'll have to surpess the excitement of the upcoming break and take care of business.
Nanaimo has looked excellent on the road on this swing. They went to Trail and beat them 7-3 on Friday night, then travelled to Penticton to spoil their Teddy Bear Toss Night and win 4-2. Brady Lynn had two goals against the Vees, as the Clippers overcame a one goal deficit in the first to upset one of the league's darlings.
The Cents also won against Trail earlier this week, but fell to the Vernon Vipers on Friday night after bus troubles led to a delay in puck drop. Despite getting a 2 goal lead in the first period, the Vipers slowly got back into the game for a 4-2 win. Henry Cleghorn and Colten Gerlib had the goals.
The Clippers are currently in a 3-way tie for top spot in the Island Division, while the Cents sit in 6th in the Interior. The Clippers and Cents are a lot closer when you break down the overall offense and defense. The Clippers hold the edge, but the teams seperated by only one goal offensively 109-108, and 2 goals defensively 101-103. The Clippers also own the top powerplay in the league at 23.1% while the Cents are in the middle of the pack at 9th with 19.4%. On the penalty kill, the Cents have the edge at 82.1% and 8th in the league, while Nanaimo is 13th with a 79.7% kill rate.
Henry Cleghorn keeps pace in the league's top 20 goal scorers with 33 points, but Nanaimo has a player in 13th, Jake Harris, with 36 points. The Clippers have 6 skaters with over 20 points, and 12 with over 10, with some of their big threats including: Tristan Crozier (29), Jamie Collins (26), and Parker Colley (25). The Cents now have 13 players with over 10 points, and Matthieu Gosselin and Zach Court are knocking on the door of 20 with 19.
In net the Clippers rely on Taz Burnman and Noah Featherstongaugh-Gowe. Burman is 9-7-0-1 with a 92.9 SV%, a 2.29 GAA, and one shutout. Gowe is 7-4 with a 90.4 SV% and a 3.26 GAA.
The Cents could deepen the storyline by playing former Clipper Austin Roden against his old club. Roden is 5-5-0-2 with a 92.9 SV% and a 2.98 GAA. Berger has started every game this week and is now 10-13-2-0, a 91.1 SV%, a 3.24 GAA and 2 shuthouts.
Both teams looking to head into the break with a win, and the Cents look to get back to .500.
Puck drop is 2pm, Pre Game at 1:45 with Jared Thomas on Q101.1FM or online at q101.ca