Cents settle for a tie in PG

By on September 27, 2012

Despite outplaying their opponents for large portions of the game, the Merritt Centennials had to settle for a 2-2 tie on the road against the Prince George Spruce Kings on Saturday.

The Cents put 36 shots on PG netminder Kirk Thompson, who earned first-star honors for his outstanding effort between the pipes, but only Merritt’s Brandon Bruce, with the man advantage, and rookie Jeff Wight were able to find the back of the net. Both goals came in the first 14 minutes of the game.

Equally as impressive at the other end of the ice, although not quite as busy, was Merritt’s Russell Sanderson who stopped 24 of 26 shots in his very first BCHL regular season start.

“Everybody was kind of disappointed that we didn’t get the win,” said Sanderson, who admitted to being quite nervous going into the game, “because we all thought that we deserved it.”

The Centennials came out guns ablazin’ on Saturday night, registering the first nine shots of the game and dominating play at both ends of the ice.

With PG’s Leudtke in the penalty box, Bruce buried the rebound off his own shot on net to put Merritt up 1-0 at the 4:36 mark of the opening stanza. Defenseman Richard Sabourin picked up the lone assist.

A little less than 10 minutes later, and shortly after the Centennials had killed the third of four successive penalties in the period, Leudtke made amends for his earlier visit to the sin bin by locating the puck during a goalmouth scramble and putting it past a sprawling Sanderson to tie the game.

Merritt wasted little time in responding. Shortly after speedy winger Brendan Lamont created a turnover in the Spruce Kings’ end, 17-year-old Wight pounced on the loose puck and buried it behind Thompson for his first BCHL goal.

“It was really nice to get that first one,” stated Wight. “I was able to relax a bit more after that and just play my game.”

The Cents’ second one-goal lead would hold up until 7:09 of the middle period when Prince George’s Cam Lawson would make Merritt pay for two more undisciplined visits to the penalty box, finishing a nice three-way play with linemates Coltyn Hansen and ever-dangerous Lyndon Martell.

Despite several good chances at both ends, neither team was able to score through the remaining 33 minutes of regulation time, and two five-minute overtime periods.

Merritt head coach and GM Luke Pierce said penalties ultimately did his team in, and stole away a victory.

“One of the reasons we were so effective in the early going was because I was able to rotate all four lines, and each line just tried to build on the momentum of the previous one. Everybody just kept resetting the bar higher and higher with each shift. Unfortunately, the penalties [we took] destroyed the flow of the game.”

On the night, Merritt was penalized nine times to Prince George’s three, and were forced to kill off seven shorthanded situations, two of which were five-on-threes.

Pierce had plenty of praise for his first-year netminder. “I give him a lot of credit. It’s not an easy bus trip [eight hours] to make as a goaltender, and I know he felt a lot of pressure. He did well and gave us a chance to win.”

Pierce went on to say that his team just needs to show a bit more finish around the net.

“I thought we let them off the hook. Instead of keeping it simple, we were trying for long-percentage shots and passes. On four or five of our best scoring opportunities, we didn’t even get a shot.”

As for the long day of travel, the somewhat questionable reffing and the hostile confines of the Prince George Coliseum, Pierce had this to say to Q101’s voice-of-the-Centennials Graham Turnbull in his post-game interview on Saturday:

“It doesn’t matter what the adversity is – a long bus trip, the penalty count, or the crowd – you have to battle through it.”

Saturday’s game marked the return of Brayden Low to the Centennials’ roster. The 19-year-old face-off specialist was a late cut of the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds. Pierce liked what he brought to the lineup against Prince George.

“He’s a guy that brings another element to our team that a lot of people undervalue, and that is his presence in the face-off circle. But that’s not the only part of his game. He’s a big kid, a strong skater, he’s intelligent and he has a good shot.”

If there was a feeling of disappointment about the outcome in PG, the Cents will have a chance to redeem themselves this coming weekend with a pair of games on home ice.

Friday, Merritt entertains Jakob Reichert and the Langley Rivermen. The two teams tied 5-5 in exhibition play on Aug. 27. The following night, it’s the Spruce Kings who roll into town for the third and final meeting between the two teams this season.

Both Friday and Saturday nights’ games start at 7:30 p.m.

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