New head coach and GM Martin makes moves to end unacceptable pattern of .500 hockey

Going into this week’s trio of games against BCHL opponents, the Merritt Centennials were looking to break out of an early run of inconsistent play that has seen the team fail to record back-to-back victories in seven regular-season outings dating back to early September.

The three-pack of games this week began last night as the Cents hosted their Interior division rivals, the West Kelowna Warriors, in a rare Wednesday-night matchup at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena. The result of the game was not available by the time this edition of the Merritt Herald went to press.

Merritt and West Kelowna have split their two previous meetings thus far this season, with the Warriors winning 6-4 on home ice to open the 2015-16 BCHL regular season, and the Cents taking the back half of the home-and-home series the following night by a 5-4 score.

Merritt’s remaining games this week are both on the road, as the Cents pay their first of three visits this season to the South Okanagan Events Centre on Friday to take on the first-place Penticton Vees, and follow that up with a Sunday matinee performance at the South Surrey Arena against the Coast-division Eagles.

Beginning on Wed-nesday, the Centennials were looking to end a pattern of unsatisfactory .500 hockey that has seen the team repeatedly follow up an inspired win with a disappointing loss.

That was the unfortunate storyline again this past week at the BCHL’s fourth-annual Showcase event in Chilliwack. In front of dozens of college and university scouts from across North America, the Centennials split their two outings —  defeating the Eagles 5-3 on September 24, then losing badly the next day, 6-0 to the Nanaimo Clippers.

“We were good for parts of both games, but definitely not good for all of them,” Cents head coach and GM Joe Martin said in summarizing the two outings at the Prospera Centre in Chilliwack. “We gave up some critical goals — early in the first game, and in the second period of the Nanaimo game.

“It’s pretty easy in the Showcase, with all that’s going on, to get sidetracked and distracted,” Martin added. “Afterwards, we told the guys that in situations like that, just focus on the work ethic. When you’re the harder-working club, the wins and losses take care of themselves.”

Martin conceded that it’s been a steep learning curve in the early going for this year’s Cents team, which sees only six returnees from last season’s squad.

“It’s taking some time for our new players to get adjusted to the league. Several have conceded that they didn’t realize things were going to be this fast, this good.

“We’ve got good players, but they’re constantly going to have to get better. The long-term prospects are exciting. It’s just what’s happening in the short term that can be a bit painful.”

Looking ahead to the games this week, Martin said there were several things he’s keying on.

“Our play without the puck is one crucial area. Not just being spectators when the puck isn’t on our stick. Another area is not giving up odd-man rushes. That has been a huge problem. And finally, we’re working on shortening our shifts down to 30 to 40 seconds.

“Those are all things that should be engrained in players already, but unfortunately with us, they’re not.”

Following Wednes-day’s game, the Centen-nials’ next home date is Sunday, October 11 at 2 p.m. when they entertain the Clippers.

Cents’ Comings and Goings

New Cents head coach and GM Joe Martin has wasted little time in making some moves to improve his hockey club.

At the end of an exhibition season in which the Cents went 2-2, Martin picked up forward Mich Lipon and defencemen Mark O’Shaughnessy and Tyler Holz while, at the same time, trading second-year D-man Cole Arcuri to the Trail Smoke Eaters for future considerations.

Lipon, 19, comes from Regina. He has played parts of the last three seasons in the WHL with Kamloops, Saskatoon and Everett. Eighteen-year-old O’Shaughnessy, a late cut of the WHL’s Kootenay Ice, played last season with the Kamloops Storm of the KIJHL. Holtz, also 18, suited up for the Osoyoos Coyotes in 2014-15.

Earlier this week, Martin released veteran netminder Anthony Pupplo, 20, and announced the signing of 1997-born goaltender Cole Kehler. Originally from Altona, Manitoba, Kehler played the last two seasons with the Kamloops Blazers.

You can read more about these recent player developments in next Tuesday’s edition of the Merritt Herald.