Cents derail Express in 5-0 shutout victory on Saturday
The Merritt Centennials got back on track, both literally and figuratively, on the weekend — thanks to a solid 5-0 victory over the visiting Coquitlam Express on Saturday night at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena.
The shutout win over the lowly Express avenged a disappointing 5-4 double overtime loss to the same Mainland Division opponent eight days ago in Coquitlam.
After a scoreless first 30 minutes on Saturday that saw the Cents dominate territorially and in the shot count, Merritt finally got on the board — courtesy of a gritty goal by rookie (and Kamloops native) Diego Cuglietta.
Less than 20 seconds later, it was Merritt’s own Payton Schaefer who upped the score to 2-0 by finishing off a great play by linemate Brendan Lamont and first-year blueliner Kevin Lohan.
The Centennials’ top line of Regan Soquila, Derek Huisman and Sean Maktaak went to town in the third period, with team-leading scorer Soquila picking up two goals and an assist, Huisman one goal and an assist, and Maktaak three assists.
Between the pipes, Merritt netminder Tyler Steel turned aside all 26 Express shots to pick up his third shutout of the season. At the other end of the ice, Coquitlam’s Cole Huggans was peppered with 44 shots, including 17 in the first period.
The Cents’ decisive win over the Express — in terms of offensive output and determined defence — was just what the doctor ordered prior to tonight’s Interior Division showdown between Merritt and the West Kelowna Warriors at Royal LePage Place in West Kelowna.
The Cents and Warriors are tied for second place in their division with 47 points each (although Merritt has played three fewer games).
The Centennials have yet to beat the Warriors in three previous matchups, all of which were decided by one goal. In their most recent engagement, on Jan. 16, the Warriors edged the Cents 3-2 despite being outshot 46-22.
Both Merritt and West Kelowna continue to pursue the Penticton Vees who hold down first place in the Interior with 59 points. The Vees have played five more games than the Centennials and two more than the Warriors.
Following Tuesday’s tilt in West Kelowna, Merritt embarks on a three-game Island road swing that sees games in Victoria Jan. 25, in Cowichan Valley Jan. 26, and in Nanaimo Jan. 27.