It’s being called the “one to watch”, “the best match-up in the first round of this year’s BCHL playoffs” and “a potential war”.

All the hype is about the best-of-seven series set to get underway this Friday between the Merritt Centennials and the Prince George Spruce Kings.

Both teams enter the highly-anticipated showdown following terrific regular seasons, and massive improvements over their results from one year ago.

Merritt finished second in the Interior Conference this season with a 34-18-2-6 record, good for 76 points. That represents a 25 point increase from last year’s sixth-place finish, and is the best points total for the club since 1978-79.

Prince George’s ascendancy has been even more remarkable. Dead last in 2010-11, the Spruce Kings rose to third in the Interior this year, just four points behind the Centennials. Their 33-21-2-4 record resulted in a 39-point leap in the standings from last season.

Adding to the sense of anticipation is the fact that the Cents and Spruce Kings have not played each other since December 9 – over three months ago.

“It’ll make for an interesting start to the series,” states Cents’ head coach and GM Luke Pierce. “There’ll be a bit of a feeling out process at the beginning I’m sure.”

While Merritt held the edge (5-1-0-1) in the seven early-season games played between the two teams, five of the contests were one-goal games, and two went to overtime.

“It was a really intense series with them,” says Pierce, “so I don’t think it will take long before we rekindle some animosity.”

Prince George head coach Dave Dupas is of a similar opinion.

“They were real good games with Merritt,” he said. “It’s going to be a huge battle.”

Dupas went on to add, “They [The Cents] work hard, they’re well coached, and they do all the little things right.”

Pierce knows that his players have their work cut out for them, too.

“Their top line is going to be a handful. They’ve got the best player in the division and top scorer in the league (Paul De Jersey), and two excellent linemates (Jujhar Khaira and Michael Colantone) with him.”

Pierce went on to say that the focus in practice this week has been on reviewing what the team needs to do to remain successful.

“At this point, we are not going to change who we are and how we play the game. Our focus will continue to be on strong team defense, on a solid work ethic, and on playing physical.”