Cents celebrate near-perfect weekend

By on November 8, 2017
The Merritt Centennials’ Henry Cleghorn rejoices after his third-period, shorthanded goal against the Surrey Eagles on Sunday put his team ahead 4-3. The Cents would hang on to win 5-4, and earn five of a possible six points from their three-game weekend road trip. (Photo courtesy of Garrett James Photography).


Despite the chilly temperatures, the Merritt Centennials returned home Sunday night basking in the warmth of having procured five of a possible six points from their three-game weekend road trip.

Merritt couldn’t have gotten things off to a better start Friday in the province’s capital against the Victoria Grizzlies. A three-goal outburst in a 37-second span of the first period powered the Cents to a convincing 6-0 victory over the host Grizzlies. Jake Berger stopped all 32 Victoria shots to garner his first shutout of the season.

“The offence was clicking,” said Merritt head coach and GM Joe Martin. “For me, coaching the forwards up front was a ton of fun. The line of Matt Kopperud, Jack Vincent and Mathieu Gosselin played really well. They created numerous chances.”

Martin added that his team’s blueline brigade factored into the win in a big way.

“I told the defence during the intermission that I was really impressed with their level of communication and their passing. It helped to create a lot of the offence. They really got us going.”

As for his netminder, Martin said, “Jake was really clean and efficient. He didn’t give up a lot of rebounds.”

The Centennials had a tougher time of things Saturday night versus the Alberni Valley Bulldogs. They were outshot 17-4 by the home side in the first period, and only a standout performance by newly-acquired goalie Austin Roden kept the Cents in the contest.

A trio of second-period special teams’ goals gave Merritt a 3-0 lead after 40 minutes, but the ’Dogs would get all of those back in the third. Ten minutes of spirited overtime resolved nothing.

“Alberni is known for their hard work,” said Martin. “In the first period, we were outskated and outworked, plain and simple. Austin was outstanding. Both he and Jake (the night before) were really good at reading the play, and making good first saves.”

Martin said his team had only themselves to blame for the Bulldogs’ comeback.

“We basically scored three goals on ourselves — two deflections and a giveaway’” he said.

Sunday’s final game, on Surrey’s Olympic-sized ice, was definitely a grind for Merritt. The Centennials fell behind early but hung in there. By the end of the first period, Merritt had rebounded to take a 3-2 lead. They went on to win 5-4.

“[Surrey] scored on the powerplay in the first two minutes of the game and got the early momentum,” said Martin. “Fortunately, we were able to respond.”

In all three weekend games, Merritt scored at least once on the powerplay, and in two of the three outings, the Cents tallied while shorthanded.

“We make it a goal every game to win the special teams’ match-up,” said Martin.

As for why the Cents are consistently in every game in recent weeks, and steadily picking up wins, Martin said, “The guys are very competitive. They’re challenging each other for ice time, and just taking a lot of pride in what they’re doing.”

Martin had special praise for 20-year-old forward Zach Zorn. The native of Yellowknife had a goal in each of the three games, including a shorthanded marker against Alberni Valley and the eventual game winner in Surrey.

“Zach is just so strong,” said Martin. “If he gets an opposing player in trouble in their own end, that player is going to lose every time.”

Merritt has just one game this coming weekend — on the road against the Silverbacks at the Shaw Centre in Salmon Arm.

“It’ll be our third time in that arena this season,” said Martin. “We’ll know what to expect, and should be ready to play.”

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