After playing just one game in the past 11 days, the Merritt Centennials begin a busy weekend of BCHL action with three games in as many nights.

Thursday, the Prince George Spruce Kings return to town for the second time in less than a week. The two teams hooked up for a goalfest last Friday, a shootout that the Cents eventually won 7-4.

On Friday, it’s the Chilliwack Chiefs who invade the Nicola Valley for a crucial contest between the third and fourth place teams in the Interior Conference of the British Columbia Hockey League.

Going into Thursday’s schedule of games, the War Bonnets were just three points back of the Centennials with two games in hand.

Merritt won the only other regular season meeting between these two teams, 4-3 in overtime, back on October 16.

Finally, on Saturday, the Centennials travel to Penticton for their third clash with the Vees in three weeks, and their fourth visit to the South Okanagan Centre in a little over a month.

To say that the two teams have gotten a bit of a hate on for each other would be putting it mildly. The last two contests have both gone to overtime, with each team winning once.

In addition, a war of words has broken out between Cents’ head coach Luke Pierce and his Vees’ counterpart Fred Harbinson over some rather nefarious on-ice tactics by the latter, and the subsequent right of so-called ‘junior’ bench bosses to question their elders.

While the trio of back-to-back games will certainly test the mettle of a Centennials team that has gone 8-1-0-1 in its last 10 games, in his weekly interview on Tuesday Pierce preferred to take things one game at a time and focus his attention on the team’s first opponent Thursday night.

Both the Cents and the Sprucies showed an ability to ‘find the twine’ in their 11-goal outburst six days ago. Merritt found the back of the net early and often, roaring out to a 5-1 lead by the midway point of the second period.

PG responded with three unanswered goals of their own in a span of eight minutes of the third to narrow it down to a one-goal game going into the final 10 minutes of regulation play.

It took Regan Soquila’s second tally of the night with less than three minutes to go in the third, and Brayden Low’s first-ever BCHL goal into an empty net to ‘put the game away’ so-to-speak and allow Cents’ players and coaching staff to breathe a little easier.

“I thought that we were fortunate to get the 5-1 lead,” stated Pierce. “It maybe left us with the impression that we were just going to walk away with the game.”

The Cents’ bench boss went on to add, “We definitely let up, that’s for sure. The four goals that we gave up were really easy ones. We didn’t make them work for them. It’s funny but we’re much more intense and ‘into the game’ when we’re down by a goal or two than when we’re nursing a lead.”

In the win against the Spruce Kings last Friday, Merritt’s top line of Soquila, Chad Brears and Evan Stack had an absolutely phenomenal night, racking up a total of 12 points between them. All three had four-point outings, with Soquila and Brears going two-and-two and Stack registering one goal and three assists.

Brears, a 20-year-old centreman from Cold Lake, Alberta has been red-hot in recent weeks. His five goals in the last four games give him a team-leading seven in total.

Merritt’s other goal scorer versus Prince George was Sean Maktaak in the first period. Unfortunately, the talented Penticton native had to leave the game shortly thereafter, and is questionnable for this weekend due to a lower body injury.

On a positive note, beginning Thursday the Cents will have back in the line-up two of their top-four defensemen.

Reece Willcox returns to action with his BCHL team following a two-week stint with Canada West’s gold-medal-winning squad at the World Junior A Challenge in Langley. Brandon Pfeill suits up after being out five games with an upper body injury.

Both blueliners are expected to play an important role in trying to shut down the Spruce Kings’ potent offence, led by Paul De Jersey, in Thursday’s rematch.

“You don’t get the type of production he’s got without being a good hockey player,” Pierce said in reference to De Jersey, who had a four-point night against the Cents last week and almost single-handedly stole the game for the Sprucies. “He’s tricky and he’s slippery. He got [the season] off to a good start and you can see that his confidence is sky high.”

Goaltender Tyler Steele will get the start versus PG on Thursday, as Pierce continues to alternate his netminders on a game-by-game basis.

Thursday night’s tilt versus Prince George starts at 7 pm, while Friday’s home encounter with Chilliwack begins at 7:30 pm.