Cents look to extend win streak against ’Backs

By on October 5, 2017
The Merritt Centennials’ Alex Bourhas celebrates his goal on Saturday night in the Cents’ 7-1 win over the visiting Cowichan Valley Capitals. Merritt has won three games in a row since Sept. 27. (Ian Webster/Herald).

 

When the Merritt Centennials travel to Salmon Arm on Friday for their lone BCHL game of the weekend, they will be looking to rack up two points, and add to their modest three-game winning streak that began back on Sept. 27.

Head coach and GM Joe Martin said the mood on the team is understandably much more buoyant since the Cents ended their six-game losing streak to start the season, and began recording a few victories.

“It feels a whole lot better coming into the dressing room,” said Martin. “There’s more confidence. It’s definitely a better place to be.”

Martin was particularly pleased with his players’ effort in the 5-2 win over Prince George on Sunday afternoon. The Cents had lost 4-3 to the Mainland division-leading Spruce Kings at the BCHL Bauer Showcase in Chilliwack on Sept. 22.

“It was a gutsy performance,” said Martin. “We had three 20-year-olds out of the lineup. Some guys really stepped up and filled roles they’re not usually asked to fill. Kudos to them for getting the job done. It just provides us with more weapons to choose from and use down the road.”

Martin was also happy with the Cents’ offensive output, especially in the two weekend games. Merritt marksmen found the back of the net an even dozen times in total on Saturday and Sunday.

“We’re trying to create more second and third [scoring] opportunities when we get inside the other team’s zone,” said Martin. “The goaltenders we’re facing are good, and we have to find ways to generate more chances. We’re also trying to put more emphasis on play away from the puck.”

Merritt’s powerplay has finally found its mojo, and contributed eight goals in the three Cents’ wins, after going 0-for-22 to start the season.

“Our assistant coaches, Matt [Samson] and Brandon [Shaw], have taken a powerplay unit each and worked with them,” said Martin. “Each unit has a bit of a different look. Of course, it really helps when the rest of the game is going well. It provides momentum going into a powerplay, which increases the chances of success.”

By choice and out of necessity, Martin has had to continue to mix his four forward lines up from game to game. It’s not been a bad thing.

“I like the chemistry that’s starting to take shape,” the head coach said. “I think we’ve got two guys on each line right now that are definitely clicking and working together. We’re still searching in some cases for a third component on the line, but we’re getting there.”

In attendance at Sunday’s Cents’ game was Vancouver Canucks’ defenseman Troy Stecher. He was with Emma Vincent, the sister of Merritt rookie forward Jack Vincent. Stecher played two seasons in the BCHL (2011-13) with the Penticton Vees before attending the University of North Dakota for three years on a hockey scholarship. Undrafted, Stecher was signed in 2016 by the Canucks and played in 71 NHL games last season. (Ian Webster/Herald).

A constant since the beginning of the season has been the stellar play of Merritt’s netminders — veteran Jake Berger and rookie Vincent Duplessis – said Martin.

“Every game so far, our goalies have given us a chance to win. They’ve been great for us every night. Between them, they flat out stole the game against Surrey.

“Finally, this weekend, we were able to provide them with a bit of run support and start to pay them back.”

The 18-year-old Duplessis was not in the lineup on Saturday and Sunday. He injured his shoulder in Wednesday’s win over Surrey, and will be out of action for at least five weeks. His place on the weekend was taken by affiliate player Jared Breitkreuz from the 100 Mile Wranglers of the KIJHL.

Also out due to injury on Sunday against Prince George were Merritt’s Chase Bell and Colten Gerlib. Both are expected to be ready to play Friday in Salmon Arm.

Taking Gerlib’s place on the blueline Sunday was 17-year-old Mattias Dal Monte. Martin is high on the young defenseman’s talent.

“Mattias is showing great progress. He’s working hard on his skating, and is improving every day. He’s great to coach, and the rest of the players love him.”

Also out of the lineup on Sunday were third-year Centennials Henry Cleghorn and Zach Zorn, the first and second stars in Saturday night’s 7-1 win over Cowichan Valley.

“Let’s just say they violated team rules and leave it at that,” said Martin.

Looking ahead to Friday, Merritt’s head coach said that first and foremost his team is focused on how they themselves play, rather than the opposition.

“That said, [Salmon Arm’s] a good team and Scott Atkinson is a good coach,” said Martin. “They play hard. The two of us are kind of in the same boat right now with a lot of new players. We both started off slow, but have won a few games recently.

“It’s the only game for us on the weekend, so we want to play well,” said Martin.

Practising for the last week with the Centennials has been 16-year-old forward Cody Savey from Campbell River. Last season, he spent time with the West Vancouver Hockey Academy, the BCHL’s Surrey Eagles and the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League.

“We’re just taking a good look at him,” said Martin.

More Cents’ bits and bites

The leadership group for the 2017-18 Merritt Centennials team consists of (left to right) assistants Henry Cleghorn, Chase Bell and Zach Court, and captain Tyrell Buckley. All four players are 20-year-olds. (Ian Webster/Herald).

Merritt Centennials’ forward Zach Court, 20, has committed to the University of Alaska-Anchorage (NCAA Div. 1) for the 2018-19 season. Originally from Winnipeg, Court is in his third season with the Centennials. (Ian Webster/Herald).

Former Merritt Centennial Stephan Seeger has signed to play professional hockey with Lowen Frankfurt of the Del 2 League in Germany. Seeger played for the Cents in 2014-15 and 2016-17, amassing 54 points in 81 games. (Photo submitted).

In September, long-time Merritt Centennials ‘ volunteer Beth Nadeau was honoured for her years of service to the hockey club with a puck drop before the Cents’ game against the Wenatchee Wild. (Ian Webster/Herald).

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