The Merritt Centennials look to even the series at 2-2 after tonight's game with the Trail Smoke Eaters.
The Cents showed some resilience in Game 3, but were unable to answer the bell quick enough in a game that quickly unraveled from a scoreless draw to a rout.
The first period was a tentative feeling out process instead of the hard nose pressure that was seen in Games 1 and 2. There was no end to end action, no quick counter-attacks, and no goals. The Cents did have a number of chances early, but once again Donovan Buskey stood tall and after being shelled for 4 goals in Game 1 he is becoming a big part of this series. Austin Roden also made a number of key saves in the first period stopping all ten he faced.
The second period was where things started to go downhill. The Smoke Eaters scored their first goal on a bit of goaltender interference in front, but after a conference the officials decided to let the goal stand. The 2nd goal came off a broken play, Mike Van Unen fearlessly blocked a shot, the puck came right back to Carter Jones and from a bad angle he was able to score on his own rebound. A couple minutes later, Kent Johnson came in on the left wing with a bit of room, and was able to pick the corner blocker side on Roden to make it 3-0 after the first 6 minutes of the second and end Roden's night. The Cents were put in the tough situation of throwing affiliate goaltender Jackson Glassford into the net, a player that hadn't seen a single second of BCHL action up to that point. He allowed one goal early on in his tenure, but seemed to settle down after that. Jackson Munro took the first penalty of the game that wasn't coincidental for a high stick, and short a man the Cents finally answered with a beautiful shorthanded breakaway from Brad Cocca to the backhand. The Smoke Eaters took themselves off the powerplay by taking 2 runs at Glassford within a minute, and went off for goaltender interference. The period ended with a 4-1 score.
The Cents came out with more jump in the third, and got an early goal from Daniel Tkac to give them a shot in the arm. Payton Matsui streaked down the right wing, pulled to his backhand and centered for Tkac who threw the puck past Buskey to make it 4-2 just 2 minutes into the third. Despite good pressure and repeated chances, the Cents couldn't muster any more offense in the period. There was a stretch of 9 minutes of play where the Cents couldn't get a whistle and despite the free flowing play, and the chances it created, it ate up too much of the clock. The Smoke Eaters would add an empty netter for the 5-2 victory.
The Cents now trail 2-1 in the best of seven series, and one of the league's best offenses has been held to 8 goals over 3 games. The Smoke Eaters have scored the most goals in the Interior Division bracket of the playoffs, and have the best goal differential of plus 4. Every other series is either even, or plus or minus 1. The first shift after a goal is so important throughout the year, but it's magnified in the playoffs. The Cents need to be able to quickly seize momentum back, and answer with a goal of their own after a Smoke Eaters goal. They can't afford to allow 2, let alone 4 goals unanswered. Goaltending needs to bounce back, and the Cents could be helped out immensely if for the first time in the series they could score the first goal of the game.
History shows that this season the Cents have only lost 3 games in a row once, and that loss came in overtime. They'll need to show resilience, play a little more physical, and play with the confidence we're used to seeing from the Cents.
Matt Kopperud continues to lead the charge for the Centennials in the playoffs with 3 goals and 1 assist, Nick Granowicz has a goal and a helper, and Payton Matsui has set up two goals.
The Smoke Eaters have gotten big games from Tyler Ghirardosi who has 2 goals and 4 assists, Kent Johnson has 3 goals and an assist, and Mack Byers has 2 goals and 2 assists.
The special teams battle becomes all the more crucial in the playoffs with the referees hesitant to call anything that isn't blatantly a penalty.
Powerplay: Penalty Kill:
Trail - 33.3% (4th) Trail - 75% (11th)
Cents - 25% (8th) Cents - 66.7% (13th)
The goaltending battle sees the Cents between a rock and a hard place. Austin Roden is in need of a bounce back, and the Cents don't really have anyone else to turn to. Vincent Duplessis is still recovering from injury, and AP Jackson Glassford is an unproven commodity. Roden has been the teams rock all season, and will need to prove why he got a late commitment from Nebraska - Omaha. He's now 1-2 with a .868 SV% ad a 4.11 GAA. Donovan Buskey has stolen the starters position for now and is 2-1 with a .929 SV% and a 2.67 GAA.
Assistant Coach Brandon Shaw says that he is feeling more confident about the group after game 3 than game 2.
"I can see the resolve in the team, I can see the heart, and I can see the effort. We just need to put it all together for Game 4."
The Cents need to use the confidence they've had all season to pull out a series tie tonight.
Puck Drop 7pm. Pre-Game 6:45 on Q101.1FM and Q101.ca with Jared Thomas.
Catch a watch party in Merritt at the Grand Pub and Grill.
The Merritt Centennials came into game 3 looking to take the series lead, but instead got their goaltender chased in a 5-2 loss.
For the first time in the series, there were no goals and no penalties after the first period of play. Early on it looked to be a goaltending duel with Austin Roden stopping 10 shots, and Donovan Buskey keeping all 13 he faced out of the net.
The goaltending battle didn't last into the second period, the Smoke Eaters scored 3 goals in the first 6 minutes to chase Austin Roden from the crease and force affiliate player Jackson Glassford into action. Glassford took a while to adjust to his first taste of BCHL action, and allowed a goal in his first 6 minutes of action, but from then on the Cents started to seize back momentum. Jackson Munro took a high sticking call after the goal against, and the Cents situation seemed to go from bad to worse. Then Brad Cocca happened. On the penalty kill, Head Coach Joe Martin elected to put Cocca and Nick Granowicz on the ice, and after a Cocca steal he broke in from the left wing side with a move to the back hand tucked it past Buskey to get the Cents on the board. The Cents would go 4-on-4 shortly thereafter because Chase Stevenson repeatedly ran young Glassford. The Cents would finish the period trailing by 3, 4-1. Shots after 2 were 28-18.
The Cents got a breath of life early in the third period when Payton Matsui flew down the right wing, and centered onto the tape of Daniel Tkac who beat Buskey upstairs to get the Cents within 2. Despite pouring the pressure on, and creating chances, the Cents would go unrewarded and the Smokies would ice the game with an empty netter to make it a 5-2 final. Final shots were 42-27.
The Cents now trail the best of 7 series 2 - 1 and will play a pivotal game 4 tomorrow night at 7pm. A win and they head back to Merritt tied, a loss and they find themselves in a 3-1 hole.
Puck drop tomorrow night from the Trail Memorial Arena at 7pm.
With the series now tied at 1-1, the Merritt Centennials have arrived to face the Trail Smoke Eaters in Game 3 of their first round series.
The Cents are trying to recapture the high of Game 1, while moving on from the low of Game 2. The team is facing their first bit of adversity and they might as well get it out of the way early, but it's also the first bit of adversity in 7 games or almost a month of hockey. One thing that seeps in on a winning streak at times is complacency. The Cents needed a wake up call, they got it in Game 2, and now it's time to see if they will answer the bell.
In Game 1, a strong start went unrewarded and Trail was able to convert on their first chance and took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission. The second was a different story as Matt Kopperud scored in the first and last minute of the period, and Mike Van Unen added a powerplay marker in the middle to give the Cents a 3-2 edge after 2. Nick Granowicz got some late insurance to get a two goal edge late in the game, and the Cents hung on for the 2 goal victory.
Game 2 started much the same. Solid Cents pressure to begin with, but Trail scoring on one of their first chances, and then tallying on a PP as well in the first. Kopperud was able to bulge the twine on a PP goal for the Cents to make it 2-1 after 1, but it started to unravel after that. The Cents were guilty of not having a team effort, not making the simple play, and as a result not being able to muster much offensively at all. Time after time they tried to dangle into the zone, and were quickly checked by the Smoke Eaters at the blue line and the puck was cleared down the ice. The Cents surrendered another goal in the 2nd to go down 3-1 before getting back within one early in the first on a wraparound try from Rylan Van Unen. The Cents couldn't seize the momentum surrendered a breakaway goal, and another PP goal to lose the game 5-2.
Early on in the series, at least on the road, it seems the Smoke Eaters game plan has been to clear pucks quickly, up the wall, off the glass, through the air whenever the puck is in their defensive zone. This strategy has neutralized one of the Cents biggest weapons - their forecheck. The Cents will now need to adapt, up the intensity, and simply have the bigger will to win to come out with at least a split in Trail. We could see some changes made to the group up front.
The Cents are getting a solid performance from Matt Kopperud as he has 3 goals early in the series, Nick Granowicz has a goal and a helper, and Brendan Schneider has helped set up 2 goals.
The Smoke Eaters are led by Mack Byers who has 2 goals and an assist, Tyler Ghirardosi has a goal and 2 helpers, and rookie Kent Johnson has 2 goals.
It didn't take long for the special teams game to swing back into the Smoke Eaters favour, the Cents will hope the pendulum swings back their way for Game 3.
Powerplay: Penalty Kill:
Trail - 40% (3rd) Trail - 71.4% (8th)
Cents - 28.6% (9th) Cents - 60% (13th)
The goaltending duel sees Austin Roden also looking to rebound after his first loss in nearly a month. Roden is 1-1 with a .887 SV% and a 3.50 GAA. Donovan Buskey returns home with a 1-1 record, a .915 SV% and a 3.00 GAA.
Head Coach Joe Martin was not happy with his teams effort in game 2.
"We were too cute at times, we were looking for a play that wasn't there, that I was saying wasn't there for the whole game. We need to change it up."
The Cents will hope to bring the effort tonight.
Puck Drop 7pm. Pre-Game 6:45 on Q101.1FM and Q101.ca with Jared Thomas. Check out the Cents watch party at the Grand Pub and Grill or the Merritt Desert Inn to cheer on the home town team with friends and fans.
The Centennials found themselves in familiar territory against the Trail Smoke Eaters on Saturday night in game 2, but they couldn't replicate their success of game 1 falling 5-2 in regulation.
The first period was much the same as a night ago, a string of good chances for the home side, and then one rush the other way and it was in the back of the Centennials net. Mack Byers let loose a wrist shot as he crossed the line, and it went post and in past the blocker of Roden to make it 1-0. Byers would add another on the PP later in the frame with just 2 seconds left to give the Smoke Eaters their first two goal lead of the series. The Cents came back with a power play marker of their own, when Mathieu Gosselin ran into a road block at the blue line, but fed the puck forward to Nick Granowicz, who found Matt Kopperud in the slot and he best Donovan Buskey low-glove to get the Cents back in it 2-1. That's how the first period would end with shots 14-9 in favour of the Cents.
The middle frame did not go the Centennials way, as they could not get an iota of extended zone time. Trying to come over the line with dangle after dangle, the Smoke Eaters would watch them come and turn them back with quick exits time after time. The only line that could sustain any zone time was the energy line, and Matsui, Sabin, and Van Unen. Trevor Zins would add to the Smoke Eaters lead and restore the 2 goal edge with another shot quickly taken across the blue line beating Roden to make it 3-1. After 2 the shots were 25-19 in favour of the Cents.
The third started the way the Cents wanted it to - an early wraparound goal from Rylan Van Unen snuck past Buskey and in to bring the Cents back within one. However, the Cents quickly gave the lead back after an ill advised pinch at centre, and a strip by rookie Kent Johnson. Johnson went in all alone after Jackson Munro blew a tire on the back check, and had Roden at his mercy move forehand, backhand, last second forehand for the highlight reel goal that broke the Cents spirit. The Smoke Eaters added another on the PP to make it 5-2, and the Cents couldn't muster an answer. Final shots were 34-31 Cents.
After the game a very salty Head Coach Joe Martin didn't have much good to say about his team.
"I thought the bottom six played well, and played the right way, but I didn't like our veterans, they were too cute with the puck."
The Cents will try and get back to basics when the series resumes in Trail on Tuesday.
It means that there will definitely be a game 5 in Merritt next Friday March 8th, and you can get tickets on Monday at the Centennials marketing office.
The Merritt Centennials look to continue to defend home ice in game 2 of the BCHL playoffs against the Trail Smoke Eaters tonight.
Last night the Cents were able to use the strengths of their game to their advantage: their speed, skill and depth up front were difference makers, and with the slate being wiped to zero their special teams have got a fresh look.
It was all Cents in the first 5 minutes of the game, but Trail bode their time and waited to strike on the counterattack and their first official shot on the night beat Austin Roden. Rookie Kent Johnson got a feed from behind the goal line and quickly put it upstairs blocker side to make it 1-0. The Cents had two powerplay opportunities late in the first, but couldn't make good and would have to settle for being down by one after period one.
The Cents regrouped and came out with fire in the second period, and this time they struck pay dirt early. Nick Wicks found Matt Kopperud at the top of the left circle and Kopperud unleashed a wrister that had enough mustard on it to roll over the glove of Buskey and into the net. Merritt wasn't done there as they'd convert with a Smoke Eater in the box when Mike Van Unen ripped a snap shot from the line that went top corner glove-side as well to give the Cents their first lead 2-1. Kopperud would score gain, in the same fashion, from almost the same spot with just under a minute to go in the 2nd to give the Cents the two goal edge, but Trail would pull back within one before the second was done with a deflection goal from Ghirardosi tome make it 3-2 after 2.
Despite playing with the lead, the Cents did a great job of staying on the attack for the majority of the period, and just like he's done all season when the Cents needed a big goal 'Game On' Nick Granowicz was there. Before Trail could even think of pulling the goalie to mount a comeback, Granowicz picked the pocket of Trevor Zins, skated in on Buskey, and made a tight move, backhand forehand up high to give the Cents a two-goal lead. From there the Cents would hang on for the victory.
The game plan for game 1 was pretty well a map for how the Centennials want to, and have to play moving forward. However, there were some lapses in their game that they will be looking to shore up. In talking to Head Coach Joe Martin after the game, he said that he'd like to see the Cents do better in the faceoff dot, and be a little tidier in their own zone, making the simple play to get out of danger. Losing a faceoff in the offensive or defensive zone means, working twice as hard to win the puck back, but there aren't too many teams better at it than the Merritt Centennials.
After having the slate wiped clean, the Cents special teams get a chance to be revitalized.
Powerplay: Penalty Kill:
Cents - 33.3% (4th) Cents - 100% (3rd)
Trail - 0% (14th) Trail - 66.7% (11th)
With two goals in game 1 Matt Kopperud leads the charge for the Centennials, Brendan Schneider provided two assists, while Nick Granowicz, and Mike Van Unen provided the other offense on the night.
Trail got goals from Kent Johnson and Tyler Ghirardosi while Diarmad Dimurro set them both up with two helpers.
The goaltending battle will be much the same again tonight with Austin Roden and Donovan Buskey going toe to toe.
Roden is fresh off a commitment to Nebraska Omaha and is 1-0 in the playoffs with a .935 SV% and a 2.00 GAA.
Buskey is 0-1 with an .892 SV% and a 4.00 GAA.
Head Coach Joe Martin felt the pace was key in game 1.
"We definitely were playing the right way, but now we have to be ready for a team who's going to want it a little more tonight."
The Cents will hope to set the pace in game 2.
Puck Drop 7pm. Pre-Game 6:45 on Q101.1FM and Q101.ca with Jared Thomas.
Tonight is an Xplornet Game Day, fans can enter to win a 100 GC simply for checking out their booth, prizes and incentives if you spin their wheel!
Fans can pick up tickets for tonight's game from 3pm to 6pm at the NVMA box office. Get your tickets early, and pack the barn!