Cents’ sizzle turns to fizzle in loss to Wild

By on September 10, 2017
The Merritt Centennials fell 5-3 to the Wenatchee Wild at home on Saturday night. Two of the Wild goals were scored on the powerplay by AJ Vanderbeck (19), shown above checking the Cents' Ashton Stockie. (Ian Webster/Herald).

 

For the second night in a row, a lack of discipline cost the Merritt Centennials dearly, as they fell 5-3 to the visiting Wenatchee Wild on Saturday at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena. It was the Wild’s first win in Merritt in three seasons.

The Cents got off to a great start against their cross-border rivals with goals by Jack Vincent and Zach Zorn staking them to a 2-0 lead before the game was four minutes old. Both highlight reel tallies came off great passes – by Mathieu Gosselin and Brendan Schneider respectively. Merritt, as a team looked crisp, focused and all business.

Jack Vincent’s goal was a thing of beauty as he went five-hole on Wenatchee netminder Seth Eisele. (Ian Webster/Herald).

 

Zach Zorn scored his second goal in as many nights, thanks to a nice pass out front from linemate Brendan Schneider. (Ian Webster/Herald).

Unfortunately, the wheels fell off shortly thereafter, as a steady parade to the penalty box resulted in three Wenatchee powerplay goals in a span of 4:47. The damage could have been worse, as the Centennials wound up taking all five first-period penalties, including one for unsportsmanlike conduct from the bench.

It was another night of stellar play by Jake Berger in net that kept it a one-goal game through 20 minutes. The native of Minnetonka, Minnesota had no chance on any of the powerplay markers by the Wild. Two of the goals were howitzers off the stick of point man AJ Vanderbeck, who had 39 goals last season (second best in the league).

Merritt netminder Jake Berger was busy again, stopping 34 of 38 shots in Saturday’s game against the Wenatchee Wild. (Ian Webster/Herald).

Neither team scored in an evenly-played second period that saw each side put 10 pucks on the opposition net, and fail to score on two man-advantage opportunities apiece. Both Chase Bell and McKullen Astill had great scoring chances for Merritt but failed to beat hulking Wenatchee netminder Seth Eisele.

The Wild took the only penalty of the third period at the 5:07-mark, but an ineffective Cents’ powerplay could generate nothing. In their first two games of the season combined, Merritt went 0-for-8 with the man advantage, while the opposition 4-for-15.

The Wild owned the puck for long stretches of the third period, and finally added an insurance marker with 6:04 left in regulation – Jasper Weatherby capitalizing on a neutral-zone turnover and some nice play by teammates Brad Bjork and Lucas Sowder.

The Cents pulled their goalie for a sixth attacker, and were promptly scored upon by Sowder, from Bjork. With 21 seconds left, Tyrell Buckley finally notched Merritt’s third goal of the night – small consolation given how his team had basically thrown the game away with their unruly play in the early going. The final shot count was 39-28 in favour of Wenatchee.

Wild head coach and GM Bliss Littler was pleased with his team’s effort, and comeback from an early deficit.

“Very happy. We’re an extremely young, inexperienced team. It was our first game of the regular season, and this is always a tough rink to play in. It’s like playing hockey in a bath tub, it’s so small.”

His team’s ability to capitalize on the multiple powerplays in the first period turned the game around, said Littler.

“It definitely helped us out, that’s for sure. And having someone like AJ on the powerplay – he probably shoots the puck as well as anyone in the league.”

Littler said that despite a host of new faces, this year’s Wild team is going to play the same way it’s played the past two seasons – “a skill game and a puck-possession game.”

As for the Centennials, assistant coach Matt Samson said a lack of discipline for the second night in a row cost his team a game.

“We’re slashing, we’re hitting guys up high – we just can’t do that.”

Samson said that Berger did everything he could to give his team a chance to win, but more was needed offensively.

“The guys up front need to better, by working hard and by buying into some of things that we’re trying to get them to do.  It’s early in the year, and nobody should be taking their place in the line-up, and their shifts on the ice for granted.”

A bright spot offensively for the Centennials has been the play of (left to right) Brendan Schneider, Ashton Stockie and Zach Zorn. (Ian Webster/Herald).

Samson remains positive about his team’s overall speed, and their physicality – as long as they don’t step over the line.

The Centennials have until next Friday to prepare for their first meeting with the Vernon Vipers, who are 2-0 after the opening weekend – thanks to a pair of wins over the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.

AFTER THE WHISTLE

Saturday night’s game was preceded by a brief centre-ice ceremony honoring long-time Merritt Centennials’ volunteer and financial supporter Beth Nadeau, who came to Merritt in the late ’60s from Vancouver Island. Nadeau was the recent recipient of the BC Hockey Hall of Fame’s ‘Dunc’ Jamieson Award, which recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the game and spirit of hockey in their communities.

Long-time Cents’ volunteer and supporter Beth Nadeau does a ceremonial puck drop before Saturday night’s game. (Ian Webster/Herald).

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