Rylan Van Unen is trading in his red and white for green and gold.

The 2019-20 Merritt Centennials captain committed last week to the Northern Michigan University Wildcats, a member of the NCAA’s top division.

“I am extremely happy for Rylan,” said head coach Derek Sweet-Coulter, who recently had his contract extended. “He has worked hard for this opportunity and I can’t wait to see him succeed at the next level. His work ethic is second to none, and he’s a great leader and person. I am proud of him and wish him nothing but success in his new journey.

“Simply Rylan was our heart and soul this season. It was an honour to work with him and get to know him as a person. Being my first year in the league he helped me a lot and was a pleasure to coach. A great player, and a better person.”

The Kamloops native put up 28 points in 58 games in his fourth year as a Centennial, including 17 goals, his highest career total.

In Northern Michigan he joins his twin brother Mike, a defenseman who spent three years with the Cents before heading to the American college circuit last season.

Rylan Van Unen told team staff he is “excited to be joining a program on the rise.

“I couldn’t be happier to join a program like Northern Michigan, and I’m especially excited to play with my brother again. I’d like to thank everyone in Merritt for what they have done for me in the last 4 years.”

He added that what he will remember most about his time with the Cents are the friendships made, and the good times had with teammates.

Meanwhile, despite spring camp being cancelled due to the current pandemic, the new crop of Cents continue to pour in: Cents management has already made agreements with a pair of up-and-comers.

17-year old forward Chris Fortems joins the Merritt squad after an impressive debut with the PIJHL’s White Rock Whalers, posting 48 points in 43 games.

Director of Hockey Operations John Stuart is already familiar with Fortems, having worked with him at the Delta Hockey Academy.

“He progresses each year and has really come into his own this past season with the White Rock Whalers. Any time a 17 year old can dominate the next level league playing against older competition it’s something you really have to take notice of. Chris put up very impressive numbers as a rookie and is deserving of the chance to move up to the Jr ‘A’ level. We made a point to watch Chris live this season as well as speak to him about the culture and values we are trying to create as an organization. We feel Chris is going to be a big part of our team both on and off the ice, and are very excited to have him as a part of the Merritt Centennials.”

Joining Fortems as a new Centennial is Alexander Ochitwa, another 17-year old from Prince George who had an impressive 23 goals over 30 games with the Cariboo Cougars of the BCMML.

“I’m most excited about the atmosphere being built in Merritt,” said Ochitwa. “The culture the team is creating looks like it could build towards something very special. Being a part of a team-first program is very promising and I’m excited to contribute to that. Also, very excited to join such a long standing organization.”