After a series of tough wide-margin losses, the Merritt Centennials find themselves approaching the end of their season with an 11–27–3–2 record. With only 11 games left, the Cents are 12 points behind the Trail Smoke Eaters who currently hold the bottom playoff spot in the league’s Interior Division. Following their loss to Penticton and West Kelowna this week, the Cents have now lost three games in a row by five or more points.
Cents at Vees – Home Game, February 18
The Cents first game of the week was against the league leading Penticton Vees, who hold an impressive record of 39 wins in 43 games. The Vees visited the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena, where starting goalie Conor Sullivan and the rest of the Centennials team awaited them. The first period did not go entirely in the Cents favour, which became an unfortunate theme throughout the night. The Vees opened up scoring 8 minutes into the period with a goal by Owen Simpson, opening up the floodgates. Just four minutes later, the Vees found the back of the net again in top BCHL scorer Aydar Suniev, who scored his 29th goal of the season to make it 2-0. Shortly after, the Cents found themselves at a man-advantage following a cross-checking penalty against Penticton defenseman Frank Djurasevic. Unfortunately for Merritt, it was one half of the powerhouse Nadeau brothers, Bradly, that scored during the power play, making the score 3-0 for the Vees. The remainder of the period was scoreless.
It was the Cents that would come out swinging in the second frame, with Captain Christian Lowe finding the twine first at the 6:57 mark and making it 3-1. Merritt’s defense held up slightly better in the second period, only allowing two goals late in the final minutes. Following a holding call and two minute penalty against Centennial Jackson Murphy-Johnson, Aydar Suniev for the Vees would make it two for the night and an even 30 for the season with another goal at the 17:26 mark. Just 29 seconds later, Billy Norcross would bump it up to 5-1 for Penticton before the period came to a close.
Josh Nadeau matched his brother’s one goal for the night with a fast one past Sullivan just 32 seconds into the third period’s play for a 6-1 score. After some back and forth, the Cents managed to keep control of the puck long enough for defenseman Kyle Isenberg to find a chance and plant the puck behind undefeated Vees goalie Hank Levy. That concluded the competitive hockey action for the night, with the only other scoring being an empty net goal by Penticton’s Jackson Nieuwendyk to make the final score 7-2. Conor Sullivan saved 36/43 in the losing effort. The Cents had 22 shots on goal during the game.
Cents at Warriors – Road Game, West Kelowna, February 20
After their loss to the Vees, the Cents headed to West Kelowna’s Royal LePage Place for a Monday game against the Warriors. Conor Sullivan started the game behind the crease for Merritt once again, with West Kelowna opting to start Cayden Hamming. Things were off to a rough start in the first period when Centennials forward Jackson Krill garnered a two minute penalty for tripping within the first minute of play. Just moments later, Luke Devlin with the Warriors opened up scoring to make it 1-0. The next score would again come during a power play, this time after an interference call against Jacob Smith of the Cents, when Riley Sharun capitalized to make the score 2-0 for West Kelowna. Besides a fight that saw three penalties for the Warriors and two for the Cents, no more action took place until the 13:41 mark, when Rylee Hlusiak put one in the back of the net for a 3-0 score. After letting in another goal to make the game 4-0, this time the score from Jaiden Moriello, Conor Sullivan was replaced with AP goalie Merik Erickson. The Cents’ Kyle Isenberg then garnered a roughing penalty, with the Warriors once again capitalizing on the man-advantage by way of Christopher Duclair to make the score 5-0. The Cents made themselves heard just nine seconds later, when Connor Farren found the back of the net for a 5-1 score.
The second period began with the Warriors opting to temporarily replace their goalie with #37 Justin Katz before making the first move during the frame of play. Just half of a minute into the period, Riley Sharun scored for the second time that night to make the score 6-1. Less than a minute later, the score would become 7-1 when the Warriors’ Brennan Nelson found the twine behind Erickson. The Cents defense played better in the second frame, with no action for the remainder of the period, besides Hamming once again replacing Katz behind the crease for West Kelowna.
The third period was a strong defensive performance by both teams, with no scoring taking place until the Warriors’ Luke Devlin scored to make the score 8-1 at the 15:25 mark. The next goal would once again come less than one minute later, with Michael Salandra for West Kelowna finding the back of the net for the final score of 9-1. Conor Sullivan saved 4/8 in the losing effort, with Merik Erickson saving 34/39.
Next week – Cents at Silverbacks and Wild (Mental Health Awareness Night)
This week, the Cents hit the road to visit the Silverbacks in Salmon Arm for a 7:00pm game, before hosting the Wenatchee Wild in Merritt for Saturday’s Mental Health Awareness Night in support of the Ty Pozzobon Foundation. The foundation was created six years ago following the tragic death of Merrittonian Ty Pozzobon, a pro bull rider who achieved international success before tragically taking his own life after a battle with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Saturday’s game will feature a ceremonial puck drop by the Pozzobon family, ‘chuck a puck’ by donation with proceeds going to the foundation, and plenty of opportunities to learn more and get involved. For more information on the Ty Pozzobon Foundation, visit www.typozzobon.com.