Cents look to rebound against Warriors
When the Merritt Centennials took to the ice Wednesday night against the visiting West Kelowna Warriors, you can bet they were looking to make amends for a disappointing result last weekend versus the Coquitlam Express. (The result of Wednesday’s game was not available at press time.)
The previously high-flying Merritt Centennials were brought back down to earth in a big way against the Express, losing 5-4 in double overtime Friday night to the last place team in the BCHL’s Mainland Division.
Coquitlam was also without their top three scorers against the Centennials, as captain Mitch Nardi, along with John Siemer and Philip Zielonka, had all been traded one day earlier to contending teams.
The Cents-Express contest didn’t start badly for a Merritt team that had won its last four games in a row, and seven of its previous eight. Goals by Sebastien Pare and Dylan Chanter staked the Centennials to a 2-0 first-period lead. In addition, the Cents allowed the Express just three shots on the Merritt net in the opening 20 minutes.
To their credit, the Express didn’t fold their tent and head home. Led by AP call-up Jackson Cressey, the hosts scored twice in the first nine minutes of the second period to tie the game and give Coquitlam new life.
“After a dominant first period by us, we needed to build on that and bury [Coquitlam],” Merritt head coach and GM Luke Pierce said. “Instead, we let them back in the game. I don’t know that we underestimated our opponents. We just need to be more self-driven and self-motivated, rather than relying on teams to push us harder.”
The two teams traded goals through the second half of regulation play with Silvan Harper and Chanter scoring for the Cents.
Tied 4-4 after 60 minutes, the Cents and Express went into overtime. The first five-minute session of four-on-four play resolved nothing, forcing a second round with the teams playing three aside.
With 1:48 gone in the final OT period, Merritt’s Sean Maktaak was forced to haul down Coquitlam’s diminutive Adam Rockwood on a partial breakaway, resulting in an automatic penalty shot for the homeside. The 17-year-old Express forward made no mistake, putting the puck past Cents netminder Tyler Steel for the game winner.
“If [Maktaak] doesn’t take that penalty, [Coquitlam] probably would have scored anyway,” Pierce said. “The fact that we were in the situation to have to take a penalty is the concerning part. All night, we weren’t physical at all, we were sloppy with the puck and we had bad coverage. It seemed we wanted to play a pond hockey game.”
Merritt outshot Coquitlam 39-19 on the night, and went 0-for-3 on the powerplay.
Pierce knew his team would have to perform a lot better against the Warriors on Wednesday night.
“We’ve done fairly well this year bouncing back after losses. I’m expecting the same with West Kelowna.”
Pierce went on to add, “We haven’t seen these guys for a long time, and we have a lot of hockey left against them [four games after Wednesday]. I think each game will be a battle of wills and who wants it more.”
Trade deadline deals
While the Merritt Centennials decided to stand pat at the BCHL trading deadline on Jan. 10, such was not the case with a number of other teams around the league.
In the Interior Division, the biggest “mover and shaker” was Vernon. The last-place Vipers were sellers — sending their top three scorers to contending teams in other divisions. Adam Tambellini (94) was traded to the Surrey Eagles, Aaron Hadley (93) to the Nanaimo Clippers, and Pierce Eviston (92) to the Victoria Grizzlies. In return, the Snakes — who will be hosting the Royal Bank Cup next season — have received a host of future considerations (i.e. players to be named later).
Both Penticton and West Kelowna got a little bit stronger up front by dealing for established scorers from the “fire-selling” Coquitlam Express. The Vees acquired John Siemer (92) while the Warriors picked up team captain Mitch Nardi (93). West Kelowna also swung a deal with the Fort McMurray Oil Barons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League to nab veteran forward Daniel Gayle (92). Earlier, Penticton had acquired big blueliner Thomas Nitsche (92) from the Langley Rivermen for futures.
In the BCHL’s Mainland Division, second-place Chilliwack made a major move in order to keep pace with the front-running Eagles. The Chiefs gave up two of their younger prospects to grab yet another Express player — high-scoring forward Philip Zielonka (93). Like Merritt, the third-place Prince George Spruce Kings (who are just four points out of first place in the Mainland Division) chose to stay with their current line-up.
In the Island Division, the top two teams — Victoria and Nanaimo — were both active on deadline day. In addition to landing Tambellini, the resurgent Grizzlies (who finished dead last in the league a season ago) also traded for the Cowichan Valley Capitals’ number one scorer, Keyler Bruce (92).
The Clippers, who will host the inaugral Western Canada Cup in March, kept pace with the Grizzlies by landing not only Hadley from Vernon, but also veteran defenceman Brock Maschmeyer (92) from the Fort MacMurray Oil Barons. Shortly after Christmas, the Clips reinforced their goaltending by trading futures to the Capitals for Derek Dun (93).