The Merritt Centennials took their first step towards a reinforced roster for the upcoming BCHL season last weekend, having finished their golden effort with a lackluster 29 points, putting up a 12–37–3–2 record. Hosting the first of their training camps on home ice, Cents hockey operations staff looked to identify local talent to bring aboard.
The Merritt Spring Camp took place at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena (NVMA) from March 31 to April 2, and was open to players born from 2004 to 2008. High performing players at Cents camps are often invited to future training camps, with the ‘best of the best’ earning a roster spot.
While the Cents didn’t sign any players during their first camp of the offseason, coaching staff told the Herald that a number of players impressed them. Close to 60 players hit the ice for the three day event.
“It had a good pace, I think the ‘07 birth year was pretty impressive, I thought,” said Curtis Toneff, head coach and GM of the Cents.
“I think there were three to four ‘07s at the camp that will play in the BCHL or Major Juniors. They’re probably a year away from doing that, so they’re kind of 2024/25 potential crop, but it’s great to form relationships with the kids. There’s a good possibility that we’ll affiliate a couple, and we will at least two players from this camp into our main camp.”
The Cents ended their season with a number of blowout losses, due partly to their heavily injured and somewhat inexperienced roster, which they look to fortify in the offseason. Toneff noted that two players stood out to coaching staff during the Merritt Spring Camp, and conversations with those two players are in the works.
While a number of teams in the BCHL have a surplus of older players, 19 and 20 year olds that will soon age out of the league, Toneff said the Cents could use more players in that age bracket at Christian Lowe and Jackson Murphy-Johnson aged out of the team at the end of this season. The Cents could gain more experienced players come the start of the new league year on June 1, which is also the day the team will gain four players from a number of ‘future deals.’
“We’re being extra cautious because we want to make sure whoever we bring in is going to be a stay with us this year,” added Toneff.
“I don’t want to make too many moves, I want to make the right ones, so we don’t have to make too many trades next year. I want a little bit more stability within our roster, and to grow with the group that we choose.”
With the team’s first camp, along with the season itself, behind him, Toneff is hopeful that next season will yield better results with some hard work in the offseason. Having taken over as Head Coach of the team in December of 2021, Toneff believes that the team developed a good foundation in the previous years, especially during the team’s 50th season.
“Overall, I think it was a good year, and I think we’ve developed a good nucleus,” commented Toneff.
“We started in the crease, and I think we have a top three goalie in the league. We have 20 year old room and import room moving forward, but this season was a big step in the right direction. We got to 12 wins, and I think the goal next year is to get to 25 or more. That would be the goal. It’s a lofty one, but I think with the right character and skill added, I think we can surprise some people.”
The next Merritt Centennials camp will take place in Abbotsford from April 14 to 16, followed by a camp in Burnaby at the end of May. For more information, visit the Cents website at www.merrittcentennials.com.