It's a battle of the top two teams in the Interior Division as the Merritt Centennials (31-15-4-3) take on the Penticton Vees (34-14-3-2) tonight.
The Merritt Centennials are coming off a busy week where they played 4 games in 5 nights, including 3 in 3 on the Island Road Swing.
The Cents started the week off against the Coquitlam Express at home last Wednesday and were able to reignite their offense while getting solid goaltending for the 5-0 win. Austin Roden stopped 40 shots on his way to the shutout, and the Cents got goals from Nick Wicks, Brad Cocca (2), Matthew Kopperud, and Brendan Schneider. It was just the Cents 2nd shutout victory this season, the only other coming against the Salmon Arm Silverbacks by the same score of 5-0.
The Dad's Trip and Island Swing started on Friday night against the Powell River Kings and the Cents got through a rough game and pulled out the 5-3 victory. Vincent Guy, Matt Kopperud, Christian Sabin, and Brad Cocca tallied for the Cents before Nick Granowicz iced the game with an empty netter.
Against the Nanaimo Clippers the Cents survived a sleepy first period with no scoring before storming out to a 4 goal second period on the way to another 5-3 win. The Cents got goals from Nick Granowicz, Matt Kopperud (2), Brady Ziemer, and Payton Matsui in the win.
The road trip concluded against the top Island team the Victoria Grizzlies and the Cents ran out of gas. Alex Newhook who only had 1 assist against the Centennials coming in exploded for 3 goals and an assist, while Christian Sabin was the only one who managed to score for the Centennials unassisted in the 4-1 loss.
The Cents have had a long week to stare down a couple key Interior Division match ups this weekend, but the first order of business is the first place Penticton Vees. They lead the Cents by 4 points in the standings and tonight's game will go a long way to determining who will finish top in the division. After this game, both teams will have 4 games remaining on the schedule with 3 of those coming against Interior Division rivals and the Langley Rivermen.
Merritt is looking for an effort that's seen them come to the razor's edge in the last two match ups to beating the Vees. Both games have gone to the shootout, and both games have been taken by the Vees. Merritt lost 4-3 in the shootout in November before the latest marathon shootout that went 10 rounds on January 20th at the NVMA. The Cents led 1-0 all the way down to the final minute off a goal from Brad Cocca in the 2nd period, but Cassidy Bowes came back to tie it in the dying seconds to send it to OT. Overtime solved nothing, and the teams skated through 10 shooters before the Vees finally came away with the victory.
Penticton is coming off a 3-2 loss to the Trail Smoke Eaters in overtime on Wednesday night and are 2-1-2 in their last 5, while the Cents are looking to get back in the win column after a 4-1 loss and are 3-1-1 in their last 5.
Brad Cocca is coming of an honorable mention in the BCHL player of the week and has 62 points. Nick Granowicz and Nick Wicks are tied at 19th and 20th in the league with 54 points.
The Vees are led from the back end by James Miller. The defenseman leads the team with 59 points, Eric Linell has 55 points, and David Silye has 54 points.
The special teams battle sees the Penticton Vees with the edge:
Powerplay: Penalty Kill:
Pen - 19.4% (10th) Pen - 81.3% (8th)
Cents - 19% (12th) Cents - 77.4% (12th)
In net Austin Roden continues to be the guy with Vincent Duplessis out with injury. Roden went 3/4 last week and is now 22-8-3 with a .907SV%, a 3.04 GAA, and 2 shutouts. Affiliate Jackson Glassford will once again serve as the back up.
Jack Lafontaine has been the go to guy in Penticton. He's now 27-12 with a .920 SV%, a 2.26 GAA, and 2 shutouts. Derek Krall has gotten some work in and is 7-5 with a .896 SV% and a 2.75 GAA.
Head Coach Joe Martin knows that the Cents will need to focus on themselves against Penticton.
"Coming into the game there's just been those 5 minute stretches where we lose our game. We need to focus on ourselves and make sure we're playing our way, and we can win this one."
The Centennials hope to focus through the 60 minutes to pick up the 2 points tonight.
Puck Drop 7pm. Pre-Game 6:45 on Hockey TV and Q101.ca with Jared Thomas.
After the Cents picked up 3 of 4 wins in the week that was the BCHL took notice of one players contributions.
Brad Cocca has earned another honorable mention this season.
The Centennials started the week off against the Coquitlam Express on Wednesday and Cocca was in on 3 of the 5 goals scored. He tallied two while setting up the other to help the Cents shutout the Coquitlam Express 5-0.
When the Cents began their Island swing on Friday against the Powell River Kings, Cocca added another 3 points night. This time he scored once, and set up two others as the Cents won 5-3.
The following night in Nanaimo, Cocca chipped in one assist versus the Clippers in another 5-3 win.
Cocca and every Cent save Christian Sabin were held off the score sheet in the road trip finale against the Victoria Grizzlies in a 4-1 loss.
The Brown University commit and Mississauga native had his dad Don Cocca on hand to watch a trio of the games, and the Cents now sit just 3 points back of the Penticton Vees for 1st in the Interior Division.
The Merritt Centennials ran out of gas in the final game of a 4 in 5 stretch, and lost to the Victoria Grizzlies 4-1.
The Grizzlies shot out to an early lead courtesy their phenom Alex Newhook. He set up Riley Hughes on a 2-on-1 and then got a gift from a Centennials defender between the hash marks and beat Roden up high to make it 2-0. Christian Sabin answered for the Cents at the 9:32 mark to cut the lead in half and get the Cents back in the game, but they wouldn’t find any more offense on the night. Roden stopped 11 of 13 shots in the first.
In the second period, the Cents got into penalty trouble but were able to weather the Grizzlies storm and keep them off the scoresheet in that regard on the night as they went 0/6 on the powerplay. Newhook scored a goal later in the period to make it 3-1 after 2. Roden stopped 24/27 shots through 2.
In the final frame the Cents had plenty of chances, but no puck luck. Back door plays with the net wide open just missing the final connection, empty nets where the puck was put wide or over. In the end, Newhook found a shot through the crowd to make it 4-1. Roden stopped 35/38 as the Cents fell in their final leg of the Dad’s weekend.
After the game, Head Coach Joe Martin said the Cents just ran out of gas.
“We knew it was going to be difficult, but we just weren’t sharp – physically or mentally and made some mistakes up there.”
Next up are the Penticton Vees on Friday from Penticton. There’s still spots available on the Fan Bus so call Jared at 378-3604 if you’re interested.
**PUCK DROP 4PM**
The Merritt Centennials (31-14-4-3) look to finish the Dad trip off with their 4th victory in a row against the 1st in the Island Division Victoria Grizzlies (32-16-0-4) this afternoon.
The Cents are coming off another tidy effort against the Nanaimo Clippers last night. They survived a sleepy first and stormed out in the 2nd period scoring 2 goals before the 2 minute mark. Nick Granowicz scored on the back door, and Matt Kopperud scooped up a goal front scramble over Pavlisin to make it 2-0. The Clippers got a bounce in off of a Cents defender to make it 2-1 before Brady Ziemer slapped a back hand floater off the draw upstairs to make it 3-1. The Clippers didn't go away and narrowed the margin to 3-2, but Matt Kopperud regained the lead fresh out of the penalty box with a shot upstairs to make it 4-2 after 2. In the third, the Clippers got an early goal to make things interesting, but Payton Matsui pulled off an all effort goal picking up his own wrap around rebound in the slot to add the insurance and make it 5-3 the final. Austin Roden stopped 30/33 shots in his and the Cents 3rd win in a row.
The Grizzlies are coming off a 4-1 win over the Wenatchee Wild last night, and are 3-0-2 in their last 5. The 2 losses have both come in the shootout. The Cents will have to keep their eye on a couple special players on Victoria including phenom Alex Newhook who leads the lead in scoring, Alex Campbell who's another prospect in this summers NHL draft and Riley Hughes who's already drafted by the New York Rangers.
The season series sees the Cents with the edge 2-0. So far they've done a good job at shutting down the Grizzlies top guns in a 4-2 win at home and a 2-1 win at the BCHL Showcase. Defenseman Carter Berger has scored 2 goals, while Newhook and Hughes have only picked up an assist each. The game does have the potential to be a barn burner as these are the top two scoring teams in the BCHL. The Grizzlies have 200 goals-for while the Cents have 198.
Brad Cocca picked up another assist last night and is up to 62 points on the season putting him back into the top 5 in BCHL scoring at 5th. Nick Granowicz and Nick Wicks are tied with 54 points, and after a very offensive night in the BCHL are sitting at 16th and 17th in the league.
The Grizzlies and the BCHL are led by Alex Newhook who has 86 points, Alex Campbell has 60, and d-man Carter Berger has 56.
The Grizzlies are one of the strongest teams in the league when it comes to special teams.
Powerplay: Penalty Kill:
Vic - 21.4% (5th) Vic - 85.5% (1st)
Cents - 19.2% (12th) Cents - 76.9% (13th)
In net Austin Roden is performing well with the pressure on. He's picked up 3 wins in a row and is now 22-7-3 with a .907 SV%, a 3.01 GAA, and 2 shutouts. Jackson Glassford continues to AP behind him as Vincent Duplessis is nursing a bit of a nagging injury sustained in practice.
Kurtis Chapman has been the go-to guy in Victoria sporting a record of 23-9, a .937 SV%, a 2.39 GAA, and 4 shutouts. However, the Grizzlies have gotten back Zachary Rose from the injured list and he is 2-3 with a .919 SV% and a 3.02 GAA.
Head Coach Joe Martin says the Grizzlies have a lot of options up front.
"They have a few special players for sure, and we will have to watch them closely, but if we can make them play defense I like our chances."
The Cents will hope that they use their options to full effect tonight.
Puck Drop 4pm. Pre-Game 3:45 on Q101.1FM and Q101.ca with Jared Thomas.
It was two steps forward – one step back for the Merritt Centennials but they survived a see-saw battle against the Nanaimo Clippers 5-3.
The first period was an absolute snoozer on both sides of the puck, with both teams getting an opportunity on the powerplay and being unable to convert. Shots after 1 were 11-5 for the Cents with Austin Roden not seeing a whole lot of pucks early.
In the second period the Cents came to play. Nick Granowicz scored 55 seconds in after being found by Joey Berkopec back door to make it 1-0. Matt Kopperud scooped out a puck from the net front melee and popped it over Pavlisin to make it 2-0 under 2 minutes in. The Clippers got a lucky bounce in front off a Cents defender to make it 2-1. Then the Cents regained the two goal margin after Brady Ziemer slapped a backhander from the line to make it 3-1. The Clippers crawled back to make it 3-2 before Matt Kopperud came out of the box, and was set up by Cocca at the top of the left circle for a rifling wrist shot up stairs to make it 4-2.
In the third, the Clippers scored early to make things tight 4-3 before Payton Matsui ended up giving the Cents some insurance with a hard nosed goal. Going in for a wraparound then collecting his own rebound to make it 5-3.
After the game, Head Coach Joe Martin said the Cents found their way after they started playing their way.
“We kind of got sucked into playing their style in the first, but we brought some Cents hockey early in the 2nd and it paid dividends.”
Next up is the Victoria Grizzlies tomorrow afternoon at 4pm.