At first glance, the Merritt Centennials 8-1 shellacking at the hands of the Penticton Vees in both teams’ final exhibition game on Sunday could be cause for some real concern in Centsland.

Not to worry says Merritt head coach and GM Luke Pierce, who’s the first to admit he doesn’t normally take losses well himself.

“I’m never one for excuses, but the simple fact is we had the entire team up at Corbett Lake for the entire weekend prior to travelling to Penticton, and I think the players were more than a little worn out by game time,” Pierce said on Monday.

“We went up to Corbett after practice on Friday and stayed right through until Sunday morning,” the coach said. “The guys were out fishing on Saturday, and we had a campfire that night. It was a great experience for everyone. There is a ton of value in something like that. It’s all part of getting our players to not only embrace our team but our community, too.

“The lodge did just such a great job of hosting us,” Pierce said. “They treated us great, it’s a beautiful spot, and the players had a lot of fun. But it takes a lot out of you.”

The Cents had just enough time on Sunday to slip home for a quick shower before they were on the bus to Penticton to watch the last of the NHL’s Young Prospects games at the South Okanagan Events Centre before getting ready for their own tilt with the Vees at 6 p.m.

Penticton served notice early that it will be a force this coming BCHL season as the Vees totally dominated the opening 20 minutes of play – at one point outshooting the Cents 17-1. They managed to score twice on the power play, at 3:14 and then again at 19:57. Vees’ marksmen were the recently acquired Demico Hannoun and rookie Lewis Zerter-Gossage.

“I don’t think that we really helped ourselves at the beginning of the game,” Pierce said. “We tried to be a bit too fancy and a bit too cute, when the best thing would have been to just keep things simple.

“We came close to surviving the first period, down one goal, but they scored with three seconds left and we went to the dressing room down 2-0.”

Things went from bad to worse in the second period as NHL draft pick Jack Ramsey tallied twice in less than seven minutes to put his team up 4-0 before the game was half over.

On a rare offensive foray into Penticton’s zone, the Cents’ Nick Fidanza scored what would be Merritt’s only goal of the night off a nice pass from linemate Rhett Willcox.

The Vees added two more goals in the middle stanza to snuff out any hopes of a Cents’ comeback. Former Cowichan Valley Capital Steen Cooper scored on a shorthanded breakaway, and captain Cody DePourcq finished off a nice tic-tac-toe with Hannoun and Patrick Newell with 50 seconds to go in the period.

DePourcq picked up his second of the night at 2:36 of the third period, and another rookie, Tyson Jost, wired one home from the face-off circle at 14:39 to close out the scoring for the Vees.

Penticton outshot Merritt 43-15 on the night, and went 4-for-13 on the power play, while the Cents failed to score on six man-advantage situations.

Merritt netminders Jonah Imoo and Anthony Pupplo allowed four goals apiece on a night when both goalies didn’t get much help from their teammates and the opposition seemed to have the puck on a string.

“The 13 shorthanded situations certainly didn’t help us,” Pierce said. “I was a bit puzzled at a few of the calls, but I’m not going to be a reffing critic. When [Penticton] has the puck 90 per cent of the game, I guess you’re going to take penalties.”

Pierce had high praise for the Vees, whose lineup this season boasts no fewer than 13 players with commitments already to American colleges and universities.

“They are a really good team – perhaps already better than last year’s team. They’re very quick, their forecheck is aggressive, and their power play and penalty kill were both very good. They did a lot of things right.”

Sitting out Sunday’s game against Penticton were Cents players Malik Kaila, Devin Oakes and Braden Fuller.

The Vees will be Merritt’s opposition on Sat., September 27 when the Cents play their home-opener at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena.