It was a rollercoaster of a weekend for the Merritt Centennials to kick off the 2023-24 BCHL season, picking up two of a possible four points with a home-opening win on Sept. 22 followed by a shutout loss the following night.
A crowd of over 500 spectators gathered at Nicola Valley Memorial Arena on Friday to take in the matchup between the Cents and the Powell River Kings, with Cents newcomer Andrew Ballantyne between the pipes for the home team. However, it was the Kings that were the first on the board just over one minute into the opening frame.
With just over two minutes left on the clock in the first, it was a familiar face that notched the first tally of the season for Merritt, with Ryan Spinale finding the back of the net to tie it at one apiece.
Newcomer Timothy Kim, who posted almost a point-per-game with the SJHL’s Humboldt Broncos last year, was the star of the show in the second period with a pair of goals under two minutes apart to put the Cents up 3-1.
Though the Kings were able to crawl back to tie the game with a pair of their own before the second buzzer, Zachary Losier took advantage of a Kings cross-checking call early in the third to notch his first BCHL goal and put the Cents back up by one.
Losier’s goal would wind up as the game winner, with Jonathan Wong adding an insurance marker for a final score of 5-3.
Kim’s two goals earned him the first star of the game, while Ballantyne was solid in net in stopping 35 of the 38 shots he faced.
Back on home ice the following night at the NVMA, around 500 fans were once again in attendance to see the Cents battle with the defending back-to-back league champion Penticton Vees.
Coming off an unfamiliar opening night loss to the West Kelowna Warriors after losing just three regular season games all of last year, the Vees came to the Nicola Valley on Saturday night with a spark, peppering Cents goaltender Karlis Mezsargs with 42 shots in a 6-0 shutout of the home team.
The Cents did not allow themselves many chances to go on the offensive in taking 16 minutes worth of penalties, mustering up just 12 shots in total throughout the 60 minutes.
A six-day break will allow the Cents squad to regroup before a weekend road trip, visiting a pair of Interior Division rivals. Merritt will battle the Vernon Vipers (1-1-0) at Kal Tire Centre on Friday evening before the long trip to Prince George on Saturday for an afternoon matinee with the Spruce Kings (0-1-0).
For stats, schedules, and more information, visit www.merrittcentennials.com.