Cents measure up against divisional rivals
Five of a possible six points from games versus Vernon, West Kelowna and Salmon Arm; not a bad week’s work for a Merritt Centennials team that finds itself tied for second place in the BCHL’s competitive Interior Division, just five points behind the Penticton Vees, with one game in hand.
The successful week of Cents’ hockey action began on Wednesday, Oct. 17 with a hard-fought 4-3 win over the Vipers at the Wesbild Centre in Vernon. It concluded on Sunday afternoon at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena, as the Centennials defeated the visiting Silverbacks 4-2. Squeezed in between, on Friday night, was a 4-3 double-overtime loss to the Warriors from West Kelowna.
While Cents head coach and GM Luke Pierce was pleased with the overall result of his team’s three games in five days, he wasn’t as thrilled by how the matches played out. In all three outings, Merritt jumped out to early leads over their opponents, only to let them back into each contest over the course of the final 40 minutes of regulation time.
“At the end of the day, the results matter, and we’re getting them,” Pierce said. “But we’ve got to be a little more convincing in the way we go about it. We’re spending a lot of time right now talking about game management. It’s one of the things we need to do better.”
Against the Vipers, who are currently languishing in fifth place in the Interior standings, first period goals by Dylan Chanter and Sebastien Pare staked the Centennials to an early 2-0 lead. The Snakes quickly got those back in the first seven minutes of the middle stanza before defenseman Tyler Martin restored Merritt’s lead with a power play tally at the 13:40 mark of the second.
Vernon drew even once again when the Vipers’ Craig Martin (no relation) beat Cents netminder Tyler Steel with less than two minutes remaining in the period.
Despite being outshot 13-6 in the final 20 minutes of regulation play (and 35-29 on the night), the Centennials were the only team to score in the third period, as 20-year-old Richard Sabourin finished off a nice play initiated by teammate Payton Schaefer.
A failure to go for the jugular after starting strong caught up with the Centennials in their second-place showdown with the Warriors. After building a 3-1 lead in the first 30 minutes of the game -— thanks to goals by Chanter, Martin and Scott Patterson — the Cents eased up on the throttle again, allowing the Warriors to score late in the second period and early in the third to tie the game and force overtime.
In the second five-minute extra session, with the teams playing three-on-three, West Kelowna’s Josh Monk scored his second of the night to give the Warriors the extra point.
“The Kelowna game was a great test for us,” Pierce stated. “It showed that we can’t just sit back, hold on and let the time run out.”
Sunday’s tilt with the Silverbacks demonstrated that the Cents’ ability to manage games down the stretch is still very much a work in progress. Merritt came out guns a blazin’ in the first period. A power play marker by Derek Huisman, and a pair of goals by Patterson (the second on a shorthanded breakaway) had the Cents out in front 3-0 before the game was 12 minutes old.
Instead of the Silverbacks throwing in the towel, it was the Centennials who seemed to pack it in. Salmon Arm scored twice with the man advantage to make it a one-goal game with 18 minutes left to play in the third period.
Fortunately for the Cents, it was T-Mart (Tyler Martin) who came through once more with the insurance marker to seal the Cents win.
Despite furious action at both ends of the ice, neither team was able to score in the remainder of the third period.
Both second-year Martin and rookie Patterson scored three times in the Cents’ trio of games this week. In addition, Merritt’s blueline brigade continued to contribute in a big way, picking up six of the team’s 11 goals.
“Teams right now are keying on our down-low play, and taking scoring opportunities away from our forwards,” Pierce explained. “What that does is open up our blueline.”
Sunday’s win was the first on home ice for Cents rookie netminder Russell Sanderson. The 18-year-old Merritt minor hockey product stopped 33 of 35 shots sent his way, including 15 of 16 in the third period.