It’s a tough time for Cents fandom.
The Merritt squad saw themselves drop to the bottom of the BCHL ladder over the weekend, after dropping a pair of crucial matchups to the West Kelowna Warriors.
The two have been locked in a battle for the final postseason spot for weeks, with Merritt holding the slight advantage heading into the back-to-back contests.
The Jan. 10 home game at Nicola Valley Arena saw just over 500 fans take in the battle between the two Interior division rivals, where West Kelowna went up swiftly and soundly in the first period to keep the lead for good.
With the score at 3-0 just past the seven-minute mark, and Tanner Marshall chased from between the pipes, Thomas Manty finally got the Centennials on the board with his eighth of the year, though the Warriors quickly rebounded to once again make it a three-goal game.
Jake McLean and Rylan Van Unen also found the back of the net in the game, though the final buzzer rang with a scoreboard reading 5-3 for West Kelowna.
Head coach Derek Sweet-Coulter did not like what he saw in the first period.
“You can’t start a game like that, especially on home ice. If we want to have success we need to keep ourselves in the game early on and not be chasing all night.”
Ryan Winter, who came into the game in relief of Marshall, managed to make 17 stops in 19 attempts in picking up the loss.
The Cents went back to their man in net, Marshall, in next day’s game in West Kelowna, though the normally-sound goaltender was peppered with 45 shots in another five-goal game.
It was a one-goal game heading into the final frame, though three goals from the Warriors in the third saw a final score of 5-1.
Payton Matsui had the Cents’ lone tally.
West Kelowna was able to capitalize on two of their six powerplay chances throughout the night.
“Discipline was another story again tonight,” said Sweet-Coulter. “We can’t afford to give the other team that many chances, and we paid the price.”
Another loss to the high-flying Trail Smoke Eaters on Tuesday saw the Centennials drop three points back of the Warriors for that coveted final playoff spot, with just over a dozen games left on the BCHL schedule.
The upcoming schedule does not get any easier, with the Cents taking on the first-place Penticton Vees in a Friday road match, who have already clinched their playoff spot.
Another visit to Trail is in the works for the following night.
The Cents are not back at home at the Nicola Valley Arena until Jan. 25, when they play host to the Surrey Eagles of the Mainland division.
In lighter Cents news, one certain Cent has put a stamp on his future in committing to Alaska Fairbanks of the NCAA’s Division I.
The forward Matsui committed to the scholarship while sitting second on the Cents in points so far this season, currently sitting at 27 through 43 games played.
Sweet-Coulter said he was “extremely proud” of Matsui.
“There’s one thing you can never question and that is his work ethic,” said Sweet-Coulter. “Every game and every practice he goes as hard as he can and his motor never stops. We are all excited for him, but more importantly proud of how hard he has worked for this and persevered through adversity.”