Cents’ weekend simply superlative!
The numbers simply don’t lie. In three weekend wins on home ice - over the Vernon Vipers, the Chilliwack Chiefs and the Langley Rivermen - the Centennials outscored their opposition 11-1, outshot them 103-79, went 4-for-13 (30.7%) on the powerplay, and a perfect 0-for-11 (100%) on the penalty kill.
Add to the mix, a pair of shutouts for Cents’ netminder Lino Chimienti, and all four lines contributing on the scoreboard, and you begin to appreciate the kind of performance the Centennials put in.
“The guys did a great job in understanding that there was a game plan for the whole weekend,” stated Centennials’ coach and GM Luke Pierce on Monday morning of this week. “Overall, I don’t know that we could have executed that plan any better.”
After a scoreless opening period Friday night versus the Vipers, the Cents simply imposed their will to win over the injury-riddled Snakes in the final 40 minutes.
Trade deadline ac-quisition Carter Shin-karuk put Merritt up a goal with a power play tally at the 13:51 mark of the second stanza.
“[Brandon] Bruce won the draw cleanly back to me,” described the personable Shinkaruk who spent the past two and a half seasons with the Powell River Kings. “I just relayed it to the point and [Bill] Marshall got a good shot through some traffic. The re-bound came out into the slot and I was able to put it in the net.”
Captain Evan Stack scored twice in the third period to ensure the Cents’ 3-0 victory over a Vernon team currently in fifth place in the Interior standings, and desperately fighting for their playoff lives.
“Friday’s game was a real impact, high-intensity game,” said Pierce, “but by the third period we were about the most dominant we’ve ever been.”
The Cents outshot the Venomous Ones 14-2 in the final frame, and 33-22 on the night.
Saturday night, against the fourth-place Chiefs, the Cents exploded out of the gate with three goals in the first 7:24 seconds of the game, en route to a decisive 5-1 victory over the War Bonnets.
Rookies Bruce, Brayden Low and Tyler Martin (with his first ever BCHL goal) took care of the first period scoring, as the Cents outshot the Chiefs 16-6 and sent Chilliwack’s starting netminder Mitch Gillam to the showers early.
“A good start was so crucial,” said Pierce, whose team maintained its dominance for a full 60 minutes, outshooting the Chiefs 40-23, and adding two more goals in the second and third periods – by Brendan Lamont and Chad Brears.
In his first start in almost two weeks, Tyler Steel was terrific in net for the Cents. He turned aside 22 pucks sent his way. The only one to beat him was a point shot deflection by former Salmon Arm Silverback Kody Dhaliwal who was traded to the Chiefs via the Flin Flon Bombers on deadline day last week.
Twenty-year-old Shinkaruk earned the assist on Martin’s goal, and was full of praise for his two linemates on the weekend.
“It’s always tough for a D-man to step in and play forward, but Tyler did a great job. As for Brandon, it’s easy to play with someone like him because he works so hard every shift. He goes into the corners and creates lots of time and space for everyone else on his line.”
Somewhat surprisingly, it was the lowly, eighth-place Rivermen who gave the Cents their toughest test of the weekend.
Fresh off a 9-3 drubbing at the hands of the Penticton Vees Friday night, and a bitter 5-4 double-overtime loss to the Silverbacks Saturday, the Coastal Conference cellar-dwellers came out hard in Sunday afternoon’s matinee encounter at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena and took the game to the Cents in the opening few minutes.
“[Langley] basically went for broke in the early going,” Pierce said, “and were double-shifting their top guys while we really spread things out and continued to roll all four lines. In the second period, I just thought we took over.”
The Centennials scored twice in the first five minutes of the second – a powerplay tally by Jakob Reichert 39 seconds in, and a wicked snap shot by defenseman Brandon Pfeil from the right face-off dot just four and a half minutes later.
Stack, with his third of the weekend, added one more goal for good measure at the 9:08 mark of the third period in the Cents’ 3-0 win, their sixth in a row since returning from the Christmas break.
Merritt’s relentless effort all weekend was never more evident than in the third period against Langley. Led by the team’s fourth line of Lamont, Brent Fletcher and Payton Schaefer, the Cents forechecked the Boatmen to a virtual standstill.
“At one point, those three guys spent a solid minute just ragging the puck along the boards in their end – against their top line. It was just such a huge shift,” Pierce said. “It was kind of a summation of the whole weekend, and all the small things the team did right.”
The Cents entertained the Westside Warriors on Wednesday night of this week. The score of the game was not available at press time.
This weekend, Merritt is on Vancouver Island for three games - against Alberni Valley Friday, Victoria Saturday and Nanaimo on Sunday.
The Centennials’ next home game is on Wednesday, January 25 when they host the league-leading Penticton Vees.