Cents fit to be tied in exhibition opener
The Merritt Centennials rebounded from an early three-goal first period deficit to tie the visiting Langley Rivermen 5-5 Tuesday night in their opening exhibition game of the 2012-13 BCHL season.
In front of just over 250 fans at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena, the Cents showed more than a few pre-season jitters in their initial outing, giving up the first goal to the Rivermen just 1:03 into the opening period, then allowing two more pucks to get by starting netminder Tyler Steel before the game was 16 minutes old.
“The first period was to be expected,” stated Merritt head coach and GM Luke Pierce. “We were still in a bit of a summer mode. I was really happy with how quickly we adjusted and picked up the pace starting in the second period.”
Indeed, the Cents were rewarded in no time for their added effort in the middle stanza as former Chilliwack Chief Derek Huisman scored the first of his two goals on the night at the 1:16 mark.
Merritt rookie Jeff Wight narrowed the deficit to one with a nice effort at 14:11 of the second, followed shortly thereafter by Danton Heinen’s tying goal less than three minutes later. Defenseman Jordan Steel drew assists on both late period goals.
“We got off to a bit of a slow start,” conceded Huisman who was a summertime acquisition from the Chiefs, “but we gradually got better. I think that’s what you have to do in exhibition games – just get better with each period.”
Rookie Diego Cuglietta’s nice solo effort at 2:11 of the third period gave Merritt its first lead of the game, however the Rivermen managed to draw even a little over a minute later as Mitch McLain beat young Cents’ netminder Jake Burguart for the first time since his arrival at training camp.
Just 44 seconds after McLain’s effort, Huisman made an equally nice play to beat Langley goaltender Darren Hogg with a rocket of a wrister high glove side. Cents’ veterans Silvan Harper and Tyler Martin picked up the assists.
“Derek’s a very intelligent player,” said Pierce. “I was very happy with the way he played tonight. Part of what makes him so good is that he tends to go unnoticed, but he scores goals. He really calmed things down for us.”
To Langley’s credit, the Rivermen refused to rollover and quit in their fourth exhibition game in the last five nights. Twenty-year-old Derek Sutcliffe completely undressed a Cents’ blueliner and lasered a bullet past Burguart for the final tally of the entertaining contest.
Pierce was philosophical about Langley’s late-game equalizer. “It’s a young defense group, and very inexperienced. Mistakes are going to happen. That said, I thought both our so-called veteran defensemen in the line-up tonight – Tyler Martin and Dylan Chanter – played extremely well and had good games.”
The Cents will have only a small amount of time to reflect on Tuesday’s tie with the Rivermen as they face-off tonight against the Chilliwack Chiefs in Hope. With 34 players still in camp, Pierce says there’ll be plenty of line-up changes for the pow-wow with the War Bonnets.
“Everybody who sat out tonight [Tuesday], with the exception of Brent Fletcher and Regan Soquila who have some health issues, will play tomorrow [Wednesday] in Hope. I expect a rugged, physical affair.”