If it’s any consolation to the Merritt Centennials, the NHL Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings won their first game on the road in six attempts this season on Tuesday night in Dallas.

The Cents’ record away from the friendly confines of the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena isn’t a whole lot better.

Going into Wednesday night’s road contest against the Rivermen in Langley, Merritt had won just two of their eight games played in opposition arenas.

Call both teams ‘homers’ if you will. The Kings are 6-1 at the Staples Centre in L.A.; the Cents 7-1 in their barn on Mamette Avenue.

The Centennials did nothing to help improve their dismal out-of-town record on the weekend, surrendering an even dozen goals in a pair of losses to Interior Division rivals.

Friday night, the Cents forgot how to play defence in a wild 7-5 loss to the Trail Smoke Eaters at the Cominco Arena.

Down 4-1 after 40 minutes, the Centennials scored three times early in the third period, only to allow the Smokies to rekindle the flame and burn the visitors once and for all.

Twenty-four hours later, against one of the lowest-scoring teams in the BCHL, the Cents allowed the host Vernon Vipers to snipe at will in a 5-3 victory over the visitors from the Nicola Valley.

Merritt head coach and GM Luke Pierce was not impressed.

“I don’t think they’re mentally prepared to play well on the road,” he said on Monday. “Other than the game against Vernon on October 24 when we jumped out to a 2-0 lead (but ended up losing 4-2), I’ve yet to see us have a good start away from home.”

Even the Cents’ two road wins in eight tries this year were nothing to write home about, according to Pierce.

“We won games earlier this season in Salmon Arm and West Kelowna but started out crappy. Fortunately, our goaltending was razor sharp and our special teams were lights out. That’s what got us through those games. As the season goes along, those things tend to average out.”

Pierce was furious with the way things started and ended in Trail.

“They score against us 32 seconds into the game,” he said. “That’s simply unacceptable. We finally tie it up in the third, and then let them go ahead again 21 seconds later. I think that we forgot about our end of the rink. We just wanted to go out there and score goals.”

In an uncharacteristic move, Pierce called out specific players in his post-game interview with Q101 play-by-play announcer David Ashbaugh, stating that the Cents’ top line of captain Sam Johnson, Gavin Gould and John Schiavo did nothing in the first two periods of the game except take a penalty.

“Friday, our whole team wasn’t very good, but it starts with those guys,” Pierce added on Monday. “There’s no excuse for us to have to go [into the dressing room] and challenge them to play harder. They need to be more determined.”

The message didn’t seem to get through to the troops in time for Saturday’s battle at Kal Tire Place in Vernon. The Cents were outshot 12-9 and outscored 1-0 in the first period and didn’t look like a team ready to exert its will over a Vipers squad depleted by suspensions.

A pair of power play goals early in the second stanza briefly put Merritt in front, but then Vernon scored the next four goals in succession to put the game away and hand the Centennials their fifth road loss in a row.

“Little things added up to give them way too many chances,” Pierce said. “We’re soft on pucks, and I don’t know the last time we outhit a team. Eight goals [by Merritt] on the weekend should have been enough to get us four points. Instead, we came away with nothing.”

Pierce was not prepared to lay any of the blame for the weekend losses on his starting netminder for both games.

“Anthony [Pupplo] is the first guy to say he’s not happy letting in 12 goals, but he made some unbelievable saves both nights.

“He makes those big saves, then doesn’t see a response from the group in front of him. When your goalie bails you out on a breakaway or on a two-on-one, [the players] should have some pride and go and work for him.”

Pierce said there’s no magic solution for the team’s road woes. It’s all about hard work and competing at both ends of the ice.

“I think the players need to realize that. There is no white knight to the rescue.”

The Langley Event Centre on Wednesday will not be an easy place for his team to turn things around, Pierce conceded.

“[The Rivermen] will be big and physical,” the Merritt coach said. “Coach Bobby Henderson always has his teams play hard and aggressive. We’re going to need a much better effort early on.”


Merritt went into Wednesday’s game against Langley clinging to third place in the Interior by a single point. All six teams in the division were scheduled to play. A win by the Cents and a loss by West Kelowna against Penticton could vault the Cents back into second. A loss by the Centennials and wins by Salmon Arm over Coquitlam and Trail over Vernon in overtime could see Merritt plummet to sixth and last place in the standings.

Centennials netminder Jonah Imoo is getting close, Pierce said on Monday. The 20-year-old ’tender has been sidelined almost six weeks, but did dress as the backup for Merritt’s last four games. Expect to see him between the pipes before the week’s out.

Following Wednesday’s game in Langley, defenceman Jake Clifford will have served two-thirds of his six-game suspension for his high hit on Hunter Findlater of the Powell River Kings back on October 25.

One bright spot in an otherwise dismal weekend was rookie Cole Grannery’s first BCHL goal. The young centre has been Merritt’s best player in more than one outing this season.

The Cents play twice at home this weekend. They host West Kelowna on Friday, and Prince George for the only time this season on Saturday.