Cents stumble out of the gate on opening night

By on September 9, 2017
The Merritt Centennials and Penticton Vees squared off at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena on Friday night to open the 2017-18 BCHL regular season. It was also Eddy Beers Night as the former Cents' player and coach was inducted into the team's Wall of Honour. (Ian Webster/Herald).

 

It was a night to remember as hometown hockey product Eddy Beers saw his name added to the Merritt Centennials’ Wall of Honour, in front of over 750 celebratory friends, family members and fans Friday at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena.

It was a less memorable occasion on the ice, as the Cents fell 4-2 to the visiting Penticton Vees in both teams’ first game of the 2017-18 BCHL regular season.

Early jitters and a lack of discipline proved to be the Centennials’ undoing. They got scored on twice in the first two minutes of the first period, and surrendered the eventual game winner while playing shorthanded late in the second.

The night’s opening goal came gift-wrapped just 1:40 into the game, as a ghastly Cents’ turnover in their own end quickly wound up in the back of the night, courtesy of the Vees’ Owen Sillinger from linemate Cassidy Bowes.

Ouch! Owen Sillinger (22) and his linemates celebrate the Vees’ early goal at 1:40 of the first period. (Ian Webster/Herald).

Just seven seconds later, it was an entire five-pack of Merritt players that went AWOL on Penticton’s second tally, as younger brother Lukas Sillinger notched his first-ever BCHL goal, burying the rebound of a Ben Allen shot during scrambled play in front of Cents’ starting netminder Jake Berger.

Friday’s game could have been over real early had it not been for a fine performance by the 20-year-old Berger. Some solid stops through the remainder of the first period, and 34 saves on the night, kept his team in the game – when they could just as easily have been blown out by a small but highly-talented Vees’ squad.

Despite his team’s loss, 20-year-old Jake Berger had a great night in the Merritt net, stopping 34 of 38 shots and weathering eight shorthanded situations. (Ian Webster/Herald).

Following a well-advised time-out called by Merritt head coach Joe Martin, the Centennials managed to stem the early bleeding and slowly work their way back into the game. Unfortunately, any real momentum-shift in the opening 20 minutes was mitigated by a steady Cents’ parade to the penalty box.

Another Merritt 20-year-old, veteran Zach Court finally got his team on the board 2:09 into the second period, deftly wristing the puck past Vees’ goalie Nolan Hildebrand from the right faceoff circle. Assists went to defensemen Joey Berkopec and Tyrell Buckley.

Merritt’s Zach Court had a strong night, and was rewarded with his team’s first goal early in the second period. (Ian Webster/Herald).

The Cents really began to take the game to the Vees as the middle period progressed, and Merritt’s Zach Zorn was rewarded with the equalizer at the 7:55 mark – taking a nice pass on the left side from rookie Brendan Schneider and beating Hildebrand just under the bar. The second assist was credited to Ashton Stockie.

In addition to scoring Merritt’s second goal Friday night, Zach Zorn was chosen the Fortis BC Energy Player of the Game. (Ian Webster/Herald).

The Centennials’ push back came grinding to a halt shortly thereafter, as four trips to the sin bin in a row completely upset the flow of the game, and ultimately led to the Vees’ third goal while on the power play – defenseman Jonny Tychonick’s unassisted point shot beating a screened Berger.

It remained 3-2 for Penticton through much of the third period, until the Vees’ Tyler Ward (who has always had big games against Merritt) tapped home the insurance marker with 54 seconds remaining in regulation play following a shot by Ryan Sandelin.

Berger’s 38-save performance earned him second-star honours, while Hildebrand was credited with 26 stops. Penticton went 1-for-8 on the powerplay, Merritt 0-for-5.

Penticton head coach and GM Fred Harbinson liked his team’s start and quick lead, but knew that Merritt would have a response.

“I knew even though we were up by a couple two minutes into the game that [the Centennials] would push back. It didn’t surprise me.”

Harbinson said the Vees’ second-period power play tally was the turning point of the game.

“The Cents had a lot of momentum. Getting that goal was huge, and gave us the lead going into the third. We finally started playing a little more sound, didn’t give up a lot of shots, and got the extra goal we needed late.”

Merritt assistant coach Matt Samson agreed with Harbinson.

“That [Penticton] goal was big. We had scored two and were coming on.”

Samson said lack of discipline really compromised his team’s overall effort all night, and directly led to the Vees’ crucial go-ahead goal in the second period.

“You can only ask so much of your penalty kill,” he said. “They had come up big before that, especially on a five-on-three. Finally Penticton got one. We deflated a bit, and didn’t have the additional push back we would have liked after that.”

Samson said that his forward group played well at times, but needed to demonstrate more urgency at and around the net – more screens and more traffic. He shouldered much of the blame for his team’s ineffective play with the man advantage.

“Our power play wasn’t good. We definitely need to be more organized. I take responsibility for that.”

As for the Cents’ stumble out of the gate in the first period, Samson said, “I thought we had the guys ready. You just never know. You definitely want to see a better start.”

In the end, Samson said, it was a lack of discipline that ultimately cost his team the game, and that would be definitely addressed prior to Saturday night’s game against the visiting Wenatchee Wild.

“While I didn’t like a few of the calls [by the officials],” Samson said, “there were definitely some where we have to look at our guys and say that’s not acceptable. We brought a lot on ourselves, and it’s got to be better.”

Rookie Ashton Stockie looked good Friday night, especially on the forecheck. (Ian Webster/Herald).

AFTER THE WHISTLE

The pre-game celebrations at centre ice included the introduction of Eddy Beers to the crowd in attendance and unveiling of his banner on the Merritt Centennials’ Wall of Honour. Beers, who grew up in Merritt, joins the Wall’s only other inductee, long-time Cents’ coach, GM, owner and current director of hockey operations Brian Barrett. For a complete recap of Beers’s distinguished hockey career, go to: https://www.merrittherald.com/cents-legend-eddy-beers-honoured-friday-night/

This season’s Merritt Centennials’ players were also introduced to the audience as part of the pre-game ceremonies. The roster sits at 23, with 14 forwards, seven defensemen and two goaltenders. For more on the Cents’ roster, go to: https://www.merrittherald.com/cents-pare-roster-ahead-opening-night/

The player introductions included this year’s letters – (from left to right) assistants Henry Cleghorn, Chase Bell and Zach Court, and captain Tyrell Buckley. (Ian Webster/Herald).

In attendance at Friday night’s game was Cents’ alumni Nick Fidanza (2015-17). After graduating from the Junior A ranks in March of this year, the former assistant captain has enrolled in the Business degree program at Thompson Rivers University.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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