Cents looking to add skill ahead of deadline

By on January 3, 2018
Tyrell Buckley notched his sixth goal of the season in the Cents’ final game of 2017. Despite the pair of goals, the Cents fell 5-2 to the visiting Coquitlam Express. (Ian Webster/Herald).

 

The Merritt Centennials traveled to Coquitlam on Wednesday, intent upon exacting a little payback against a suddenly red-hot Express team that beat the Cents 5-2 at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena on Dec. 29.

After recording only three wins in the first three months of the season, and replacing head coach Barry Wolfe with Jason Fortier behind the bench in early December, Coquitlam has gone 5-4-0-0 in its last nine games. During that stretch, the Express have picked up wins over the league-leading Vernon Vipers, the Powell River Kings, the Victoria Grizzlies, the Langley Rivermen and the Centennials.

The first scheduled Merritt-Coquitlam contest almost didn’t happen, as the Express were delayed several hours by terrible road conditions in the Fraser Valley and on the Coquihalla Highway.

The Express did not make it to town until almost 8:30 p.m. After an abbreviated warm-up, the game finally got underway at 9:20 p.m., and didn’t end until 11:30 p.m.

“We were talking to [Coquitlam] from about two o’clock on,” said Merritt head coach and GM Joe Martin. “They were stuck around Hope for about four hours.”

The Centennials peppered their travel-weary opponents in the first period, outshooting them 14-6, but were unable to beat Express rookie netminder Clay Stevenson. Martin went as far as to say his team dominated the whole game, but just couldn’t buy enough goals.

“In all honesty, I can think of one sustained Coquitlam shift in the entire 60 minutes,” he said. “Everything went in our favour except what matters most – on the scoreboard.”

It was actually Coquitlam who got on the board first, scoring a pair of powerplay goals two minutes and 20 seconds apart to begin the second period. Express marksmen were Joshua Bruce and Joshua Wildauer.

Against the flow of play, Coquitlam extended its lead to 3-0 when Colby Pederson buried his first of two on the night at 9:25 of the middle stanza.

With three goals allowed on just 12 shots, Merritt made a change between the pipes, with Austin Roden replacing starting goaltender Jake Berger.

The change seemed to have the desired effect, as less than 90 seconds later, Ashton Stockie’s sixth goal of the season beat Stevenson and narrowed the gap to 3-1.

Once again, against the flow, the Express re-established their three-goal lead at the nine-minute mark of the third period, Pederson beating Rodin with a seemingly harmless point shot that found its way through a mass of bodies and past a screened Rodin.

The Cents replied again, with captain Tyrell Buckley notching his sixth of the year on the powerplay at the 10:46 mark. Unfortunately, that’s as close as Merritt would get. With Rodin pulled for an extra attacker, Coquitlam’s Eric Linell would close out the scoring with an empty-netter a minute and fifteen seconds from the final buzzer.

The Centennials outshot the Express 35-23 on the night. The homeside went one-for-four with the man advantage, the visitors two-for-three.

Wednesday’s game in Coquitlam kicks off a very busy month of January for the Centennials. In total they play 12 games in a span of 29 days, including eight on the road. All but two of the dozen games are against teams in their division, highlighted by a weekend doubleheader versus the Wild in Wenatchee on Jan. 26 and 27.

“There are two spots ahead of us in the standings that are realistically within reach,” said Martin. “That’s why this next batch of games is so important.”

Martin’s other goal has been a season-long one – to see his team play solid, 60-minute games, from the goaltenders out.

“I just want to see us be harder to play against. It’s getting there, but we’re not there yet.”

With less than a week until the CJHL trade deadline of Jan. 10, Martin said he is definitely working the phones.

“There are teams out there making trades, and bringing in bigger pieces. I’m talking to lots of people. Like everyone else, we’d love to land a big defenceman, or a high-scoring forward, but that could be wishful thinking.”

The Centennials have the luxury of one open roster spot, and Martin might concentrate on just filling that rather than trading away any of his current players.

“A player with some skill, a lot of determination, and a great attitude would fit the bill,” he said.

Martin hasn’t ruled out trying to sign either Fraser Dodd or Joel Patsey to the available roster position. Both affiliate players from the Junior B 100 Mile Wranglers impressed the Cents’ coaching staff in the team’s 5-3 win over the Trail Smoke Eaters back on Dec. 12.

“They’re good hockey players, both of them,” said Martin. “We just have to consider what’s best for them.”

The Centennials’ next home game is Jan. 6 when they host the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.

With the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena closed New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, the Centennials practised outdoors on Monday at the outdoor facility located in Central Park. Martin said the ice was a little rough in patches, but that his team made the best of the situation.

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