Cents looking to rebound from Island ordeal against league-leading Vees
Going into Wednes-day night’s much- anticipated meeting with the league-leading Penticton Vees at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena, the Merritt Centennials were hoping to put the events of this past weekend far, far behind them.
To say that the Cents’ three-game odyssey across the Georgia Strait was an ordeal would be an understatement.
Weather and travel conditions, some lights-out opposition goaltending, and a few moments of undisciplined play resulted in the Centennials losing two of three contests against a trio of the lowliest teams in the BCHL’s Coastal Conference.
Friday night, at the Weyerhaeuser Arena in Port Alberni, it was Junior B goaltender Cameron Large who came up big in his first start between the pipes for the Bulldogs this season. The Comox Valley Glacier King call-up stopped 38 of 40 shots thrown at him by a Merritt team looking to win its eighth game in a row, thereby setting the stage for one of the most bizarre and exciting endings to a game seen in a number of years.
After Cents’ captain Evan Stack scored twice in the third period to draw his team even with the host Bulldogs, Merritt was awarded a powerplay with just 2:15 left in regulation.
Instead of making good on the golden-goose of an opportunity, the Cents frittered away the two minute man- advantage, and then coughed up the puck in the neutral zone just as the penalized player, Walker Hyland, stepped back on the ice.
Hyland teamed up with Ryan Lough to completely undress not one, but two Centennials’ defensemen, before smartly depositing the puck behind Merritt’s Lino Chimienti for the game-winning goal – with just three seconds remaining on the clock!
A stunned and disappointed Centennials’ side made some amends for their first-night folly less than 24 hours later in a sloppy 4-1 victory over the Victoria Grizzlies.
The decimated Grizzlies dressed just 14 skaters, including four affiliate players, thanks to a fire sale at the trade deadline seventeen days ago.
The Cents’ dust-up with the Bears did have some brighter moments. Defenseman Ross Man-cuso scored his first goal of the season in the opening period, while Regan Soquila tallied the team’s first shorthanded marker at 4:54 of the third.
Red-hot Chad Brears notched his 20th and 21st goals of the season, while Tyler Steel continued his stellar play of late, stopping all but one of 28 shots for his twelfth victory of the 2011-12 campaign.
Sunday afternoon, in their third game in just over 40 hours, the Centennials peppered the Nanaimo net with 46 shots, but still fell to a desperate Clippers team 3-2. Stack and Silvan Harper were the only two Cents able to beat former Vee Billy Faust in goal for the Boatmen.
Despite giving up just three goals on 36 shots, Chimienti lost his second game in a row following four wins in succession, a pair of shutouts, and BCHL Player of the Week honors.
The Vees went into Wednesday night’s showdown with the Cents riding a 25-game win streak, and having lost just three times in regulation this entire season. They have also been the number one ranked Junior A team in the nation for almost two months.
The Cents, on the other hand, were expected to be without their top point getter, Regan Soquila, who suffered a deep charley horse injury to his right leg in last Sunday’s contest with the Clippers.