Cents’ win streak at three; bring on the Wild and Apes

By on December 6, 2017
Zach Court celebrates his goal on Friday night, which marked the first win on the weekend for the Centennials who have now stretched a hot streak to three straight Ws. (Ian Webster/Herald).

For the second time this season, the Merritt Centennials have managed to put together a three-game winning streak.

The most recent trio of back-to-back victories includes Friday’s 7-4 win versus the visiting West Kelowna Warriors, and a 4-0 defeat of the Smoke Eaters in Trail on Saturday (see game summaries below).

Kicking off this latest run of success was Merritt’s thrilling 5-4 overtime win over the Smokies at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena on Nov. 25.

The Centennials’ only other three-game winning streak this season took place from Sept. 27 to Oct. 1, when they recorded victories over the Surrey Eagles, Cowichan Valley Capitals and Prince George Spruce Kings after starting the 2017-18 campaign with six straight losses.

Acting head coach Matt Samson was understandably delighted with the outcome of both Cents’ weekend games.

Merritt Centennials’ netminder Austin Roden makes one of his 50-saves Friday night in the Cents’ 7-4 victory over the West Kelowna Warriors. On Saturday, Roden’s teammate Jacob Berger stopped all 41 shots sent his way in a 4-0 shutout of the Trail Smoke Eaters. (Ian Webster/Herald).

“I thought we played well on Friday, in the first and third periods especially,” Samson said. “Austin Roden was really good for us [in net], we scored a couple on the powerplay and got a shorthanded goal.”

Roden was good indeed, picking up second-star honours for his 50-save performance between the pipes. The first star went to Cents’ forward Zach Zorn, who had a goal and an assist.

Merritt’s goaltending was outstanding again the next night in Trail, as veteran Jake Berger stopped all 41 shots sent his way to pick up his second shutout of the BCHL season.

“Our first period in Trail was good,” said Samson, “but they came out in the second and outshot us 16-2. Jake played awesome and got us through it.

“Even though we were outshot again in the third period, I thought we managed the game well — playing it safe and not giving up odd-man rushes.”

Over the course of the two weekend games, the Centennials were outshot 95-49 by their opponents.

“We do have to do a better job of blocking shots, and getting back pressure from our forwards so our defencemen can step up,” said Samson.

The interim head coach said the Cents have an ideal situation in net right now with 20-year-old Berger and the 19-year-old Roden.

“They have a great relationship and great attitudes. They’re both working hard, and pushing each other. That’s all you can ask for.”

The Centennials’ modest win streak will be put to the test again this weekend with two more games against Interior division rivals. Friday, Merritt entertains the high-scoring Wenatchee Wild, while on Saturday it’s the Salmon Arm Silverbacks who roll into town for their fourth meeting with the Cents this season.

Merritt and Salmon Arm are currently battling it out for sixth place in the Interior division. Going into Wednesday night’s BCHL action, the two teams were tied at 27 points apiece.


Friday, Dec. 01

Merritt 7 West Kelowna 4

The storyline was eerily similar to when the two teams met one week earlier, except it was the Centennials on this occasion who erupted in the third period and won going away.

Zach Court spearheaded the Cents’ scoring parade with a goal and two assists, while Austin Roden was magnificent again with a 50-save performance between the pipes. Merritt’s special teams were none-too-shabby either with two powerplay tallies and a shorthanded marker.

Other scoring highlights: Rylan Van Unen’s wired shot from the left faceoff dot, and Brendan Schneider’s sick wrister while moving left to right across the high slot.

Saturday, Dec. 02

Merritt 4 Trail 0

One night after Roden’s rock-solid effort against the Warriors, Jake Berger’s 41-save shutout (his second of the season) versus the Smoke Eaters demonstrated that the Cents just might have the best one-two goaltending punch in the BCHL.

Short-staffed again, the Smokies gave the Cents all they could handle, but Zach Zorn’s second and third goals of the weekend paced Merritt to the victory.

Two of Zorno’s tallies were shorties, as he and fellow penalty-killer Henry Cleghorn continue to give opposition teams nightmares when playing the Cents five-on-four. Just 16 Merritt shots in 60 minutes might be cause for some concern, but if the finish and the netminding are A-1, who really cares.

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