Just when it looked like the 2013-14 edition of the Merritt Centennials had things figured out, the big “c” word reared its ugly head again.

After running their modest winning streak to four games with a solid 4-1 victory over the visiting Prince George Spruce Kings last Thursday, the Cents pancaked on the weekend — demonstrating a number of bad habits in losing 3-1 to the Warriors in West Kelowna on Friday, then 4-2 to a road-weary Coquitlam Express team on Saturday.

While the Spruce Kings might want to blame bus legs for their dismal start on Thursday — they fell behind 3-0 before the game was 23 minutes old and were outshot 27-18 through two periods — the bottom line was the Centennials were good. They were moving their feet, executing and working at both ends of the ice.

“Top to bottom, it was one of our best games,” Cents head coach and GM Luke Pierce said.

The red-hot Sebastien Pare scored twice for the Cents while both Adam Tracey and Dane Birks picked up their first goals of the season.

Goaltender Connor Lecouvee turned aside 27 of 28 shots for his fourth win in a Cents’ uniform.

In all fairness to Merritt, Friday’s game against West Kelowna was very winnable — if it weren’t for special teams play. On a night when the Cents outshot the Warriors 37-26 and had a ton of good chances, the bottom line was the Warriors scored twice on four powerplay opportunities while the Centennials went zero-for-six.

“We were a bit slow out of the gate,” Pierce said, “but from the second period on, I thought that we were equal or better than them. They have a very good power play.”

Gavin Gould scored Merritt’s lone goal against the Warriors late in the second period.

If Friday’s loss could be blamed on special-teams play, Saturday’s defeat at the hands of the Express had everything to do with a downright awful start — a problem that has plagued the Cents much of the season.

Despite outshooting Coquitlam 15-12 in the opening 20 minutes (and 39-33 on the night), it was all Express in the early going as they scored the game’s first two goals and owned the puck in the Cents’ end.

Merritt’s Diego Cugliatti and newcomer Devin Oakes both scored to keep their team in the hunt, but a late empty-netter by Adam Rockwood sealed an Express win.

“I was really disappointed with our first period against Coquitlam,” Pierce said. “We did nothing that we had designed in the game plan. We just weren’t tuned in.”

The two weekend losses dropped the Centennials into fifth place in their division, a point behind the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.

Merritt was in Penticton last night for a match-up with the Vees. A win could have vaulted the Cents past the ’Backs and to within a point of the third-place Vernon Vipers.

This weekend, the Centennials entertain Salmon Arm on Friday (7:30 p.m.) and Trail on Sunday (4 p.m.).

Cents head coach Luke Pierce selected to lead Team Canada West in World Junior A Challenge Prospects Game

Luke Pierce

Luke Pierce

The accolades keep coming for Merritt Centennials head coach Luke Pierce.

On the heels of last season’s selection as the BCHL Interior Division’s Coach of the Year, Pierce has been chosen by the Canadian Junior Hockey League to coach the Canada West prospects team at the 2013 World Junior A Challenge in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia in November.

“[The CJHL] talked to me three weeks ago about the coaching position,” Pierce said. “I talked to my family and the team, and came to the conclusion that it would be a great opportunity.”
Pierce’s duties actually begin next week.

“I’m gone to Calgary from Oct. 25 – 30 for the Canada West selection camp. I did that last year. It’ll be most of the younger, draft-eligible kids from that camp that will make up the prospects team.

“I’ll fly home for a week, then fly to Yarmouth on November 6th or 7th. The prospects games are on the 8th and 9th. I’ll fly home again on the 10th.”

Pierce is hoping that as many as three of this year’s Centennials players will be invited to the evaluation camp in Calgary. Last year, Dane Birks attended and was chosen to play for Canada West in the prospects game.

Icebreaker and Parents Weekend kicks off Friday

A big, warm Nicola Valley welcome is extended to all the parents and other family members of Merritt Centennials’ players who will be descending upon our community for the annual Parents Weekend.

The families will be coming from across North America — from as far away as New York State, Michigan, California, Alberta and many parts of British Columbia.

The weekend fun begins with Friday night’s home game against the Salmon Arm Silverbacks and concludes with another home encounter — versus the Trail Smoke Eaters on Sunday afternoon. The players’ parents will be formally introduced to Merritt residents and Cents’ fans during the first intermission of Friday’s game.

On Saturday, Cents’ players and family members, team personnel and supporters will converge on the Civic Centre for the 19th annual Ice Breaker gala. The evening will feature a delicious dinner put on by the Centennials Booster Club, a casino and silent auction, and outstanding entertainment by comedic hypnotist Gavin Hooper, the Master of Imagination.

Tickets for the Ice Breaker are still available and may be purchased at the Cents Marketing Office, located at 2058 Granite Ave.