The Merritt Centennials are beginning to earn a bit of a reputation as lions on the road but pussycats in their own den.

In their last five games away from the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena, the Cents have carved out a 3-1-0-1 record. For the season so far, they’re a very respectable 8-8-0-2 in other teams’ barns.

It’s been a different story on home ice lately. Going into Wednesday night’s game against the visiting Penticton Vees, the Centennials were a miserable 1-4-0-0 in their last five outings in front of Merritt fans — a far cry from the 8-2-0-0 record they amassed in their first 10 games this season at the Nicola Valley Arena.

Centennials assistant coach Joe Martin is well aware of his team’s less than flattering record of late in its own rink, but unsure of why it’s happening.

“I don’t know the reason. I can’t put my finger on it,” he said on Tuesday of this week. “In those five games, including the one most recently played, we’ve been the better team for the majority of each game, but it hasn’t been reflected on the scoreboard.”

The latest setback on home ice that Martin was referring to was a disappointing 6-3 defeat on Saturday at the hands of the Salmon Arm Silverbacks — the team currently chasing Merritt for the fourth-and-final playoff spot in the BCHL’s Interior division.

When the Cents went up 3-1 against the ’Backs early in the third period on a goal by Nick Fidanza, it looked like the homeside was firmly in control. No such luck. The Apes erupted for five unanswered goals of their own (the last one into an empty net) and won the contest going away.

Particularly galling was the fact that the five tallies came on just seven Salmon Arm shots in the entire final 20 minutes.

Martin was reluctant to hang his team’s loss on his starting goalie, but indicated that Jonah Imoo has to be better.

“Jonah is 20. He’s a veteran. There isn’t much he hasn’t done or seen in this league. What we need from him is consistency — plain and simple,” the coach said.

Martin didn’t absolve the rest of his team from blame following the loss to the Silverbacks.

“I think that there are times in our rink when we’ve been too passive. We’ve allowed other teams to dictate play. I definitely feel that we can be more aggressive.”

Saturday’s game was a good case in point. The opening minutes of the first period belonged to Salmon Arm, and the ’Backs were rewarded on the scoreboard early as Carson Bolduc registered his first of three on the night at 5:48 of the period.

That goal seemed to wake up the Cents. They thoroughly outplayed the visitors for the next 35 minutes, outshot their opponents 29-17 through two periods, and took the lead on a pair of goals by John Schiavo and Diego Cuglietta.

Instead of going for the jugular following Fidanza’s goal early in the third, the Cents (and Imoo in particular) seemed to let their collective guard down and allow the Silverbacks to breathe new life.

Goals less than three minutes apart got them back on even terms, and two more snipes shortly thereafter put them ahead by a pair. The empty netter only added insult to injury.

The loss on home ice Saturday took the shine off a gutsy 3-2 double-overtime Merritt win in Prince George the night before.

PG’s Jeremiah Leudtke and Merritt’s Colin Grannary traded goals in an evenly-played first period. Neither team was able to find the back of the net in the second.

Gavin Gould put Merritt ahead at 5:57 of the third period, and that’s the way it remained until Leudtke — easily the best player on the ice — buried his second of the night with just 15 seconds remaining in regulation play to force extra innings.

To their credit, the Cents appeared to want a victory more, and it was defenceman Jake Clifford who played the OT hero, scoring the game winner at 2:08 of the second overtime period.

Anthony Pupplo picked up the win between the pipes for Merritt, stopping 40 of 42 shots, while Alex Brooks-Potts took the loss in the PG net.

“I felt that we were in full control of the game in Prince George,” Martin said, “even though it took us until overtime to win. We took a number of unfortunate penalties, but I told our players to keep playing the same way. They were great.”

Martin said his team was full of confidence going into Wednesday’s match-up with the division and league-leading Vees.

“Despite our recent home record, in my opinion we’ve played some great hockey in the last two weeks. I want to continue that trend. We’re going to be mindful of a few of the tendencies that Penticton has, but overall, we’re just concentrating on ourselves.”

Imoo was scheduled to start in net against the Vees, a sign that Martin has complete faith in his veteran puck stopper.

The Cents’ final game before the Christmas break is this Friday when they host the surging Vernon Vipers, who are 8-2-0-0 in their last 10 games.