The Merritt Centennials are coming off their 47th season in franchise history, and while the season didn’t go as anyone would’ve anticipated it still had its share of bright spots including the play of the Cents graduating players. In the coming weeks, we will pay tribute to the young men who are departing the program.
Rylan Van Unen
It’s been a couple seasons since the Cents have seen a player like Rylan Van Unen pass through it’s ranks. Like his former Captain Tyrell Buckley, Van Unen played his entire junior career in a Centennials uniform. Van Unen grew from a straight lined agitator who would hit anything that moved, to a level headed Captain that could beat someone with all the weapons in the arsenal: speed, skill, determination, grit, craftiness, or just a plain old wicked shot.
Growing up in the Merritt Minor Hockey system, Van Unen, along with his family, transported to Kamloops where he played a year in the Thompson Blazers Major Midget program putting up 16 points in 15 games. He then moved to Junior B with the nearby Chase Heat where he continued to put up point per game numbers. The play of Rylan and his twin brother Mike caught the eye of then Coach Joe Martin and he brought them on board.
Former Governor Brian Barett says that Van Unen was a player that embodied Cents hockey, but had some work to do.
“Rylan came in as a young, hard working, raw boned player, but has a ton of potential. A diamond in the rough that needed to be polished.”
Van Unen says the fans seemed to welcome him with open arms.
“My first impression of the Cents was just how welcome the community was to new players, you notice it right away when the season starts how much people care.”
In his first year, Van Unen proved himself to become a regular in the lineup getting into 53 games and netting 18 points. He also pitched in 3 points on the Cents run to a second round game 7 against the Penticton Vees. Unfortunately, that would be as deep as the Cents would ever go in Van Unen’s tenure. In his second year, he was a little banged up with injury but found his way into 43 games putting up 16 points before adding a pair of helpers in a sweep to the eventual Champion Wenatchee Wild in round 1 of the playoffs. Van Unen proved to be a mainstay in year 3 suiting up for all 58 regular season games and providing supplemental offense for the high flying Cents. He was able to add 14 goals and 13 assists over the year, most of which came with little powerplay time. Rylan culminated his Cents career in a year of turmoil, but through it all was a rock as the Captain of the team. Once again, he was an Iron Man getting into all 58 games, and snapped home a career high 17 goals to go with 11 assists.
Head Coach Derek Sweet Coulter says that Rylan was integral to the Cents this season.
“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.”
Van Unen says throughout the years he’s developed a number of skills, but one stands out.
“I think over the years the thing that’s developed the most is my strength. Being strong on the puck, being strong in puck pursuit, and not giving up the puck is something I’ve worked hard on to prepare for the next level.”
Next season Van Unen will suit up for the Northern Michigan Wildcats after earning a late commitment, and Coach Sweet-Coulter says NMU will be getting the full package.
“He’s a player who has matured enough at the Junior level. He’s got a ton of upside, and he will be ready for the next step.”
Rylan says like many others it’s the bond you create with team mates that he will carry with him after leaving Merritt.
“The thing I’ll remember most is probably the friendships I made and the good times I had with my team mates.”
As a member of the WCHA, Rylan will be reunited with twin brother Mike as he suits up for the Wildcats. He will also suit up against former team mates and friends Nick Wicks, Zach Court, Tyrell Buckley, and Jacob Berger.
The Cents would like to wish Rylan and his family all the best as Rylan takes the next step in his hockey career. Thank you for your outstanding contributions to the team and to the community.