The Merritt Centennials’ quest for the holy grail (a.k.a. the RBC Cup) continues tonight as the Cents travel to Penticton to begin their best-of-seven second-round BCHL playoff series against the Vees.

The Centennials’ task will be a daunting one, as they come face-to-face with the number-one-ranked Junior A team in Canada, and a team that has broken a slew of league records this season, including total wins (54) and consecutive wins (42).

A much-anticipated Cents-Vees showdown is the result of both teams winning their first-round playoff match-ups. Merritt disposed of the Prince George Spruce Kings in an impressive four-game sweep, while Penticton had their hands full for awhile before downing the stubborn Chilliwack Chiefs in six games.

At first glance, a look back at the season series between Merritt and Penticton only reinforces the notion that the Cents are in tough against the nation’s best. In the eight games played against one another, the Vees went 7-0-0-1 to pick up 15 of a possible 16 points. They outscored the Cents 37-14, and went 16-for-42 (38.1%) on the powerplay.

What the summary numbers fail to adequately reflect however is how well the Centennials played in many of their head-to-head matchups with the Vees. Three of the eight contests were one-goal decisions (with Merritt actually winning one of them in overtime – in Penticton). A fourth game, on March 1, was a two-goal margin of victory for the Vees, but the final tally was into an empty net.

While the Vees lost twice to the Chiefs, and fell in their final league game of the regular season (to Prince George), the Cents are actually riding a seven-game win streak that dates back to March 6.

The four-game sweep of the Spruce Kings showcased a Centennials’ team that has really hit its stride, both offensively and defensively. Led by the timely scoring of captain Evan Stack, the scintillating netminding of Lino Chimienti, and the bone-crushing hitting of Brent Fletcher, the Centennials are playing the aggressive, hard-nosed type of playoff hockey needed to be successful in the post-season.

All that said, the Cents are substantial underdogs going into their series with the Vees. It’s a role they relish.

“We’re content to continue to fy under the radar,” stated Cen-tennials’ head coach and GM Luke Pierce in an interview for a story published in Monday’s Province newspaper. “There’s a lot of hunger to keep making a statement.”

Pierce also feels that all the pressure, and weight of expectation, is squarely on a Penticton team that has been picked as RBC Cup favorite since well before Christmas.

If the Cents are searching for any added inspiration in their quest to upset the Vees, they need look no further than the 2000-2001 BCHL season. That year, Merritt finished 29 points behind the league-leading Penticton Panthers. The Cents swept Prince George and Penticton in the first two rounds of the playoffs before losing to Victoria in a league final series that went a full seven games.