The Merritt Centennials made the most of an unfortunate situation in this week of BCHL action, managing to sneak away with two of four points during an otherwise disastrous weekend of hockey. The Cents now hold a 12–31–3–2 record, and the bottom spot in the Interior division, being 11 points behind the Trail Smoke Eaters in the standings. The BCHL playoffs will all but certainly go on without the Merritt Centennials for the fifth consecutive season.
Cents at Vees – Home Game, March 3 –
The Cents took on the dominant Penticton Vees, who have won 43 of their 47 games this season, for Friday night hockey action at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena. The game officially kicked off the team’s Parents Weekend, which saw parents of Cents players, none of whom are local, travel to the Nicola Valley to watch their promising young athletes compete on home ice. The Cents started Conor Sullivan in net, with Johnny Hicks still out on injury. The first period signalled troubled waters ahead for the Cents, as Hiroki Gojsic of the Vees quickly opened scoring to make it 1-0 at the 2:15 mark. After a few minutes of back and forth defensive play, which saw a number of shots on goal for the Vees, Penticton’s Beanie Richter found the twine behind Sullivan to increase the team’s lead to 2-0. Under two minutes later, Vees defenseman Ryan Hopkins scored his ninth of the season for a 3-0 score. The relentless assault continued at the 15:41 mark, when the Vees increased their lead to 4-0 by way of Thomas Pichette. Before the period mercifully ended, Penticton would find the back of the net twice more to make it 6-0, with Aydar Suniev and Josh Nadeau scoring their 33rd and 34th regular season goals, respectively.
The second period was a glimmer of defensive hope for the Cents, hoping to prevent a total blowout, as they limited the Vees to just one goal by defenseman Frank Djurasevic. No penalties took place within the second frame of play. With a score of 7-0, it was onto the third period.
The third period really got underway about 8 minutes in, when Bradly Nadeau further added to the beatdown with a quick shot into the net, assisted by brother Josh. Only 15 seconds later, Aydar Suniev scored his second of the night to make the score 9-0. Suniev was booked for boarding not long after, but the Cents were unable to capitalize on the ensuing man-advantage. Billy Norcross of the Vees would be the next to score, as Cents fans watched with dismay, but not surprise, as the score rolled over to double digits in favour of Penticton. The Cents would finally make themselves heard with a goal by Aidan Lindblad, for a score of 10-1 halfway through the third frame. Following an unsportsmanlike conduct call against Centennial Diego Johnson, the unstoppable Nadeau brothers once again found the back of the net during the two minute power play for a score of 11-1. Unsatisfied with just two goals for the night, the Vees’ Aydar Suniev completed the hattrick and scored to make the goal 12-1. Things got chippy between Centennial Mark Thurston and Penticton’s Ryan Hopkins not long after, leading to a man advantage for the Vees after Hopkins had served his time in the sin bin. Thomas Pichette scored his second of the night during the power play, giving way to the final score of 13-1 in favour of the Vees. Conor Sullivan saved 47/60 in the loss.
Following the game, parents, friends, and fans of the Merritt Centennials participated in an auction in the NVMA’s mezzanine, which saw bidders place bets on Cents players and coaching staff for the following night’s First Annual Player Calcutta Shootout. The multi-round knockout style shootout between Cents players, and betting on it, helped to generate funds and excitement for the community-owned club.
Cents at Warriors – Home Game, March 4 –
After their calamitous loss to the Vees, the Cents welcomed the visiting West Kelowna Warriors for a Saturday night game at the NVMA followed by the Calcutta Shootout. With Conor Sullivan back behind the crease, the Cents were looking for their first win against the Warriors this season. The first period was arguably one of the best the Centennials have played all season, as they dominated the ice all frame long. The home team opened up scoring at the 6:52 mark with a solid shot to the back of the net by Jackson Krill, with his 18th of the season making it 1-0 for the Cents. Exactly one minute late, Jaxson Murray planted the puck behind West Kelowna’s Angelo Zol for a score of 2-0. The onslaught would continue toward the end of the period for a 3-0 game, with Captain Christian Lowe scoring a goal on Zol 15 minutes into the period. Right winger Jacob Smith would strengthen the Cents’ lead to to 4-0 before the end of the period. No penalties were called against either team the entire first frame.
The second period was less glamorous than the last for the Cents, who put in a solid effort to stand their ground and maintain their lead. Following an interference call against Jackson Krill just two minutes in, Christopher Duclair of the Warriors was able to best Sullivan for the first time that night to make it a 4-1 game. The rest of the second period remained scoreless.
The third period started quickly in favour of the Warriors thanks to a late second period roughing penalty against the Cents’ Connor Farren that carried over to the start of the third frame. The man advantage allowed Ben MacDonald of West Kelowna to score just 25 seconds in, bringing the score to a much closet 4-2. Following the next faceoff, Cents Captain Christian Lowe faced a four minute penalty for spearing. The Warriors were once again able to take advantage of the situation, with forward Rylee Hlusiak scoring to make the score 4-3. West Kelowna would find their equalizer in Luke Devlin, who found the back of the net assisted by Bobby May and goalie Cayden Hamming. The third period of regulation play came to a close with a 4-4, sending the game to a five minute frame of three on three overtime.
The overtime was action packed albeit short lived, with three shots on goal by each team. The Cents would ultimately find success by way of Aidan Lindblad and Erik Sollied, who bested Hamming to make the final score 5-4 in favour of Merritt. Conor Sullivan saved 38/42 in the win.
The First Annual Player Calcutta Shootout took place after the game, which saw a number of rounds of knockout-style shootouts between single Cents skaters and their goalie. Assistant Coach Sam Waterfield came out on top, with forward Aidan Lindblad in second place, and defenseman Kyle Isenberg at the bottom of the podium.
Next week –
The Cents host the BCHL’s lone American team, the Wenatchee Wild, for a Friday game on March 10 at 7pm. The next night, the Cents head to Penticton for another matchup against the Vees at 6pm. For more information, or tickets, visit www.merrittcentennials.com.