This is your captain speaking
Talk about doing things in style.
When Merritt Centennials captain Brent Fletcher finally scored his first goal of the season on Saturday night, in the Cents’ 3-2 win over the visiting Salmon Arm Silverbacks, he did it as one part of a proverbial Gordie Howe hat trick.
The 20-year-old Fletcher also picked up an assist on the game’s first goal by Centennials rookie Jeff Wight, and earned the decision in a spirited third-period fight with the ’Backs resident malcontent, Jeff Kennedy.
“That was my first Gordie Howie hat trick ever,” an obviously pleased Fletcher said. “It was sure good to get that first goal, too. It had been eating at me for a while now.”
Fletcher’s scoring drought, which dated back to March 30 last season, was not the result of poor performance or lack of effort, Merritt’s head coach Luke Pierce said.
“Brent’s been good. He’s been doing everything — except scoring. Even his first goal on Saturday wasn’t an easy one, but it defined what is so great about him. He just kept whacking away until [the puck] went in. It was a huge goal for us.”
Fletcher’s shorthanded marker at the 1:52 mark of the second period gave the Cents a 2-0 lead over a Silverbacks team that was bent on avenging an embarrassing 5-0 loss to the Centennials at the Shaw Centre in Salmon Arm one night earlier.
“They’re a team that, prior to this weekend, had won seven of nine games,” Pierce said. “Saturday, they came to play, and played hard. They were relentless on pucks, while we were throwing too many pucks away blindly.”
The ’Backs didn’t fold after Fletcher’s tally. Instead, they rallied with two second-period goals of their own, less than seven minutes apart, to briefly tie things up on the scoreboard.
The Cents demonstrated some push-back of their own, however, as Sean Maktaak scored what would prove to be the game winner less than three minutes later. It was Maktaak’s third goal of the weekend as he picked up a pair in Friday night’s shutout victory over the Silverbacks.
Salmon Arm came on strong in the third period Saturday, outshooting Merritt 15-7, but could not beat Tyler Steel in the Cents net. Fletcher’s timely scrap midway through the period also seemed to take some of the wind out of the Silverbacks’ sails.
“As we were skating up the ice, I actually challenged [Kennedy] to a fight,” Fletcher said. “The ref was on the other side of the ice and I guess he didn’t hear me. I think he saw Kennedy slash me and drop his gloves first. It probably looked like he instigated it.”
The Silverbacks were forced to kill off the extra two-minute penalty assessed to Kennedy (along with a game misconduct), and they never really threatened to draw even for the remainder of the game.
“Kennedy’s a guy who has been a pain for us all year,” Pierce said. “The fight was really good timing.”
Merritt outshot Salmon Arm 32-28 on the night. Neither team was able to score with the man advantage despite a combined nine opportunities.
On Friday in Salmon Arm, things couldn’t have gone much better for the Centennials. They scored early (Maktaak at 4:34 of the first period) and had the only two goals of the opening 40 minutes.
“I don’t think that [Salmon Arm] played that well,” Pierce said. “They didn’t seem to have a lot of jump at the start. We were fortunate in a few instances, like the third goal (which ’Backs netminder Adam Clark essentially steered into his own net). We were due for some bounces. If you compete hard enough and long enough, eventually you catch a few breaks.”
The “own-goal” was credited to Maktaak. He, along with linemates Regan Soquila and Derek Huisman, had a big night. Soquila had two goals and an assist while Huisman chipped in with a pair of assists.
The Cents’ fifth goal came from newly-acquired Sam Johnson — his first in the BCHL.
“We’ve been really happy with Sam,” Pierce said. “He competes hard and he’s a very intelligent player. I think that he’s got a real bright future — with us and in our league.”
Steel turned aside all 33 shots thrown at him to pick up his second shutout of the season.
IN THE MONDAY, DEC. 31, EDITION OF THE MERRITT HERALD
Cents vs Smoke Eaters
Cents vs Vipers
Dec. 21 and 22