—– By Roger White
For the first time since the 2018-2019 season, the Merritt Centennials are playoff bound.
However with sixteen games remaining in the BCHL regular season, the Cents focus remains the same as it has all season, compete hard every night and win hockey games.
With the pressure of securing a playoff berth behind them, the battle for playoff positioning now begins.
The Centennials are on the road this weekend with two crucial games against teams they are trying to catch in the Interior Division. Tonight (Friday Feb. 9) the Cents are in Trail to take on the Smoke Eaters at the Cominco Arena at 7 p.m. while tomorrow night (Saturday Feb. 10)the Cranbrook Bucks entertain the Centennials at 6 p.m. PST.
Heading into this weekend’s action, Merritt sits seventh in the Interior Division with 32 points ( 38-14-20-3-1) ten back of Trail (38-18-14-6) who occupy the fifth seed. The Cents lead the season series with the Smokies 2-1 including back-to-back wins at the NVMA on Feb 3 (5-1) and Nov. 25 (5-4).
Despite this recent success, Centennials head coach Brian Passmore knows his team is in for a tough contest this evening against Trail.
“Games against them (Trail) are always tough, especially when you go into their barn,” said Passmore. “We know we have to stick to the game plan that has worked for us the past two games, which is to be physical and take advantage of opportunities when they are presented.”
On Saturday night, Merritt will head to Western Financial Place to face the struggling Cranbrook Bucks (41-16-21-3) who sit two points ahead of Merritt for sixth in the division with three games in hand.
The Centennials, Smoke Eaters and Bucks occupy seeds seven (Cents) six (Bucks) and eight (Smokies) in the tight Interior Division. The Prince George Spruce Kings who snapped a four game losing streak on Feb. 3 at home against Cranbrook, are three points back of the Centennials with 29 points (37-13-21-3).
Merritt will decide their own playoff seed over the next few weeks with three games against Trail, two against Salmon Arm and this Saturday’s encounter with Cranbrook.
Then the BCHL’s version of March Madness begins.