In a game that had a playoff atmosphere, the Merritt Centennials played their best 55 minutes of the year, before they fell into a defensive shell in the final 5 minutes and the Vees came back to win it 3-2.
The first period skated to a scoreless draw with the goaltenders stealing the show. Nolan Hildebrand stopped all 9 shots he faced, while Jacob Berger stopped all 12 he faced.
The second was very similar to the first until the 11:38 mark when Colten Gerlib held the puck at the right point by gloving it down, and wasted no time teeing up a blast that beat Hildebrand on the blocker side to make it 1-0. Despite penalties on both sides that remained the score after 40 minutes of play.
The Cents started the third behind on the shot clock, and that trend continued. However, they were able to find the back of the net first after Rylan Van Unen blocked a shot and went off to the races joined by Jackson Munro on a 2-on-1, Van Unen opted to keep and shoot and roofed it over the shoulder of Hildebrand to make it 2-0 halfway through the third. After the Cents scored they went into a defensive shell, and as Head Coach Martin would later say after the game, they looked "afraid to win." In the final 5 minutes with the Cents trying to buckle down offensively, Jonny Tychonik held the line, and unleashed a shot that deflected off a sprawling Henry Cleghorn who was attempting to block the shot, and in past Berger.
The turning point came late in the game after a Vees goal was dissallowed. It was ruled that Berger was interfered with, but there was no penalty to the Penticton Vees on the play. After the play, Berger squirted some water at a Vees player, and he ended up getting a penalty. On that powerplay, it was Tychonik who got his second of the game with another blast from the point. This time there was no deflection on the play, just a clean shot up high to tie things up at 2. The teams were content to skate 2-2 to the overtime frame.
In overtime, the Cents couldn't convert on their offensive rush, and on the counter attack Grant Cruikshank was able to roof it on Berger to get the OT winner.
After the game, Coach Martin said that he could stomach the loss a lot easier if his team played their game until the end.
"If we gave more, and played our game in the final five minutes I'd be talking about how we ran into a good team that found a way to win. It's stil a good opponent that found a way to win, but we didn't enough of what we should've in the last five minutes"
The Cents have now lost three straight, two in overtime to salvage points, but they'll look to get 2 points against the Wenatchee Wild with no strings attached tomorrow night at 7pm on Q101.
In a move ahead of the Penticton Vees game, the Centennials have acquired Brad Cocca, who is committed to Harvard University next season, from the OJHL's St. Michaels Buzzers for future considerations.
Cocca, who stands 5'9, 170 pounds, hails from Missisauga, and played for the Buzzers during the 2015-16 season acquiring 19 points in 54 games played. Last year he played hockey with the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL recording 5 points in 34 games played.
He will be in the line up tonight as the Cents take on the Vees at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena at 7pm.
The Centennials return to the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena after a one game road trip to Prince George where they had another great game, but unfortunately ended up on the wrong side of the scoresheet. The Spruce Kings ended up taking the game in overtime despite many chances from the Cents to take the lead before then. The Cents didn’t come home completely empty handed as they will get a point for the overtime loss and now have 7 on the year, but will need more if they want to advance past where they currently sit in the league standings, 15th place.
The Penticton Vees are coming off a hard fought two game set against the Vernon Vipers where they played two tight games. One ended in a 3-2 victory for the Vees, while the other skated all the way through extra time to a 2-2 draw. The Vees remain the only undefeated team in the BCHL as they are 6-0-1. Despite their undefeated record they’ve only had two games that they’ve won in convincing fashion with a 3 goal margin or more.
One of those tight games was the first game of the season when the Penticton Vees visited Merritt last. They were able to get out to a 2-0 lead early, but in the second the Cents bounced back to tie it, before the Vees scored on the powerplay and got a late goal to ice the game and win 4-2.
The Cents will have to stay disciplined as the Vees are tied for the league lead on the powerplay with a 25.7% conversion rate, and are also very strong on the penalty kill where they’re second in the league with a 87.9% kill rate. Comparitively, the Cents have the second worst powerplay in league with a 13.5% conversion rate, and 12th on the penalty kill with a 79.7% kill rate.
Head Coach Joe Martin says the Vees are often overlooked for their defensive play.
"They're a hard working team, and they've had some tight games, but they've found ways to win."
The Cents will have to find a way to win to avoid another 3 game losing streak, and they'll look to do so tonight at 7pm at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena. Pre game at 6:45 with Jared Thomas: 101.1 on the radio, q101.ca online, or the Q101 Merritt app on your mobile device.
With both coaches looking for a 60 minute effort from their clubs, it’s Head Coach Joe Martin who wishes he had a 65 minute effort, as just 17 seconds into overtime the Spruce Kings stand out rookie defenseman Layton Ahac roofed a wrister over the blocker of Jake Berger to give the Spruce Kings the edge 3-2.
The first period started well for the Spruce Kings, as they got on the board just 1:37 into the contest after a turnover by Sam Miller at centre ice resulted in a one on one opportunity for Ethan De Jong against Mattias Dal Monte. De Jong managed to get around Dal Monte, and then was able to trickle a shot over the arm of Berger to make it 1-0.
Sam Miller more than made it up to his team mates as later in the period, with just 2 minutes to go he wristed a seeing-eye shot through the crowd from the left point that deflected off a Spruce Kings defender and in for his first in the BCHL. After one period of play it was tied 1-1.
The Cents came out a team possessed in the second period. Zach Court had a penalty shot opportunity just a minute into the frame, and was promptly denied by Evan De Brouwer, but moments later on the offensive zone face off, Jack Vincent won the puck back to Sam Miller who teed it up from the line, and Alex Bourhas found the rebound for his second in two games, and Miller’s second point on the night. The teams would trade powerplays and chances throughout the remainder of the second, but the goaltenders would keep it a 2-1 score.
In the third, Merritt killed off an early penalty before having two opportunities on the powerplay where De Brouwer was able to make some key saves. When the teams returned to 5 on 5, Patrick Cozzi streaked down the right wing and his centering found Nolan Welsh with his stick on the ice heading to the net, and he tapped it in to tie it up at 2. The Cents had golden opportunities from Nick Wicks in the slot all alone, and a solid power move by Rylan Van Unen to go to the net but De Brouwer managed to get the game to overtime where the Spruce Kings won it in just 17 seconds.
After the game, Coach Martin said the team played well and had plenty of chances to win.
“The team played hard, and we had our chances. Wicks in front with a great chance everyone thought was going in, Van Unen on a partial breakaway, Court with a penalty shot... I’m encouraged by what I’m seeing out there.”
The Cents will have 2 more games this weekend against two top teams. The Penticton Vees come to town on Friday night, and the Cents hit the road for Wenatchee to take on the wild on Saturday.
The Cents are coming off a light week of action as they only played one game during the Thanksgiving Day long weekend. A friday tilt against the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in which they lost 7-4. The scoreline was a lot more flattering than the game, as it was 7-1 before the Centennials scored 3 goals in the final 5 minutes of play. Two of those goals came in the final minute. While it’s encouraging that the Cents can score in bunches, they’ll look to do so tonight before the game gets out of hand.
That loss was also the first time Jake Berger has been chased from the net. He's been one of the Cents shining stories throughout the season, giving the team opportunities to win in every game, and after giving up 7 goals was pulled in favour of AP call up Jared Breitkruz. The Cents will look for him to return to form, and play a little stronger in front of him to prevent easy goals around the net on second opportunities.
This is already the third and final matchup of the season between these clubs. The Cents don't need a long memory to relive the loss they received at the BCHL Showcase in mid September 4-3, a game that was very much within reach. However, The Spruce Kings will come in with a bitter taste in their mouths after the Cents handed them a 5-2 loss in the last game the two teams played on October 1st. The Cents were able to take advantage of the powerplay in the third period of that contest after the teams were tied at 2 after two. Joey Berkopec and Brendan Schneider were able to convert on the powerplay, while Jack Vincent added another to get the three goal win.
Since that meeting the Spruce Kings are 1-1, splitting a double header against the Surrey Eagles last weekend, and are 2-3 in their last 5 games. The Cents have the same record in the last 5 games after their first 3 wins came in the same week.
The Spruce Kings are led offensively by Ethan De Jong, Dustin Manz, Ben Poisson, Ben Brar, and Patrick Cozzi up front who all have at least 10 points. They’re also led by two rookies on the back end, Layton Ahac and Dylan Anhorn along with Liam Watson Brawn who all have more than 8 points. By Comparison, the Cents only have two players with more than 8 points, Henry Cleghorn and Nick Wicks. However, the Cents have been scoring by committee with only 2 players not yet on the scoresheet this year, Mattias Dal Monte and Matt Kopperud.
Special Teams may be where the game is won and lost yet again as both teams are tight in that regard. The Spruce Kings have the edge in both categories 80% on the penalty kill, and 17.5% on the powerplay, while the Cents are 15% on the powerplay and 78% on the penalty kill.
The Cents will look to get back into the win column tonight in Prince George at 7pm. Pre Game with Jared Thomas at 6:45: 101.1 on the FM dial, online at q101.ca, or on the Q101 Merritt App.