You could not have scripted it any better.

The Merritt Centennials rode the brilliant goaltending of Jonah Imoo and Anthony Pupplo and the solid play of their special teams units to two impressive victories on the weekend.

Friday night in Salmon Arm, Pupplo made the saves that needed to be made, and the power play scored on three of their four chances in a workmanlike 5-2 win over the Silverbacks.

Twenty-four hours later, in front of a home-opening crowd of close to 1,000 delighted fans, Imoo put in a performance for the ages in leading his team to a 5-0 shutout victory over the visiting Penticton Vees.

Merritt notched another power play marker, and killed off all four Penticton man-advantage situations to remain perfect on the season at 17-for-17.

The two weekend wins vaulted the Cents into second place in the BCHL’s Interior Division, two points behind the West Kelowna Warriors with one game in hand.

“Those were two good teams we beat on the weekend,” Merritt head coach and GM Luke Pierce said. “We’ll take that every weekend if we can.”

Friday, at the Sunwave Centre in Salmon Arm, the Cents and ’Backs traded goals in the first period and again in the second before Merritt blew
the game open with three unanswered tallies in the final 22 minutes of the game.

Scoring for the Cents were rookies Braden Fuller, Nick Fidanza and John Schiavo, along with veterans Shane Poulsen and Diego Cuglietta.

“[Salmon Arm] came out with a lot of energy — fast and physical,” Pierce said. “I thought we were very patient. Our execution was really good. When Diego put us in the lead [at 15:03 of the second period], it seemed there was no looking back. We managed the game really well in the third period.”

Pierce said that Cuglietta’s play never fails to amaze him.

“[Diego’s] a passionate guy who wears his heart on his sleeve. His compete level is off the charts. That said, his ability to stay composed and not get down on himself is where we’ve seen the biggest evolution in his game. He just goes out there and works and works and works. That’s what we want from our leadership.”

The Cents head coach was also impressed with Pupplo, who stopped 23 of 25 shots on Friday to pick up his first BCHL win in the regular season.

“[Anthony] was very good all night, and he’s only going to get better,” Pierce said.

Against the Vees on Saturday, Imoo just couldn’t have been much better. His play was flawless in turning aside all 37 Penticton shots over three periods.

“It was definitely one of the best BCHL games I’ve ever played — one of those nights where I was really focused and seeing the puck,” Imoo said. “It just felt like I was in the zone.”

The 20-year-old veteran netminder, who is in his fourth BCHL season, went on to add, “The ability to kind of swallow up pucks and not give up rebounds that force you to make even tougher saves is a real key to a game. When [the other team] is shooting pucks from everywhere, it’s important to not give them second and third chances on the same play.”

Imoo had high praise for the efforts of the blueline brigade in front of him.

“It sure made my life a lot easier. I was seeing almost everything because they were doing such a good job of clearing traffic in front of me,” he said.

“It was a real team effort,” Pierce said. “Everybody chipped in and contributed in some fashion. We were very opportunistic. We created chances and made good on them.”

Against the Vees, the Cents got first period goals from Michael Ederer and Daniel Nachbaur to stake a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes. James Neil upped it to 3-0 early in the second. Ederer, with his second of the night, and Schiavo’s second of the weekend closed things out in the final frame.

Despite the score, Pierce emphasized that there’s still plenty to work on, and a long season ahead.

“We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves. We’re going to look at some game film and find some things to focus on in practice. We have to realize that we got lucky a few times and the breaks went our way. Things can turn very quickly.”


Jonah Imoo’s heroics on Saturday against the Penticton Vees were even more notable given that he was grieving the tragic loss of an uncle just days earlier.

“My uncle, Ben Snowden, passed away in his early 40s from brain cancer,” Imoo said. “It was very sudden.

“My mom, my brother and sister, and my nephew all went down to visit him in Indiana. On the second day they were there, my uncle passed away peacefully in his sleep.

“Saturday’s game was dedicated to him.”

The next action for Imoo and the rest of the Centennials is this weekend when they meet up with two more of their Interior Division rivals.

On Friday night at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena, the Cents entertain the Vernon Vipers under their new head coach, Mark Ferner. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, Merritt travels to West Kelowna to take on the first-place Warriors at 7 p.m.

The Centennials defeated the Warriors 8-2 in exhibtion play in early September of this year, but failed to win a regular-season game against their cross-Connector rivals in seven attempts last season.

Centennial Shane Poulsen named BCHL’s Player of the Week

How could the British Columbia Hockey League not notice the superlative performance of 20-year-old defenceman Shane Poulsen on the weekend!Shane Poulsen_web

The veteran Merritt Centennials blueliner scored one goal and added four assists for five points in his team’s pair of wins on Saturday and Sunday, and picked up third star honours in both victories. His accomplishments earned him the BCHL’s Player of the Week honours.

“It was pretty exciting to find out,” the Kamloops native said on Monday night, shortly after learning of the honour from his teammates. “It’s the first time for sure.”

“The whole team has played so well defensively,” Poulsen said. “I’m partnered with Josh Teves and we really complement each other. I believe that we both think the game at a pretty high level. The biggest thing is that we communicate and listen to each other really well.

“A lot of the credit has to go to [coaches] Luke and Joe, and the players as a group. We’re all buying into what’s being asked of us, and trusting one another. [Team captain] Sam Johnson has done a great job of leading the team — he’s really bringing us together.

“There’s a feeling around that we’ve got a team that knows what it takes to battle through some of the harder times we’re going to go through. I’m definitely excited to be back here this year.”