—— By Roger White

For the first time since the 2018-2019 BCHL hockey season, the Merritt Centennials are riding a four-game winning streak which has catapulted the franchise into sixth place in the league’s Interior Division standings.

The Centennials look to ride the momentum into March after an impressive February which saw the club win five of the eight games played including back-to-back wins over the Salmon Arm Silverbacks last weekend during a home and home series. The Silverbacks make a return visit to the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena (NVMA) on Friday night looking to avenge last week’s losses.

On Friday night, goaltender Andrew Ballantyne was solid between the pipes stopping 49 of 51 shots he faced in regulation and overtime as well as putting on a clinic during the shootout stopping all eleven shooters he faced in the Cents 3-2 victory. Luke Pfoh had a goal (9) and an assist for the Centennials while Jaxon Murray sniped his 17th of the season during regulation. Jack Ziliotto was the shootout hero notching the only goal both teams would score despite both sending eleven skaters to the dot hopeful to win the game.

On Saturday night, Ballantyne recorded his first BCHL shutout as the Centennials blanked the Silverbacks 4-0 at the NVMA. The Whitby, Ontario native turned aside all 28 shots he faced for his fourth consecutive win and helped earn him the BCHL’s Third Star of the week after posting a dazzling .975 SV%.

The Cents opened the scoring in the first period with Matt Gillard (1) and Jack Ziliotto finding the back of the net to open a 2-0 lead and give Ballantyne all the support he would need for his eleventh win of the season. Zachary Losier (14) and Kieran Poulin (5) rounded out the scoring for the Cents who outshot the Backs 33-28.

Following this Friday night’s tilt with Salmon Arm (44-26-15-0-3) at the NVMA, the Cents (44-18-22-3-1) square off with the Prince George Spruce Kings (44-14-27-3) who sit last in the Interior Division.

The Centennials and Cranbrook Bucks are tied for sixth spot in the division however the Cents have the advantage based on the season series with the Bucks’. Both games this weekend at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena begin at 7 p.m.