The Merritt Centennials (8-19-1-1) visit the Vernon Vipers (15-12-1-1) tonight at Kal Tire Place.
The Cents are coming off a mini road trip to Langley and the Island where they managed to salvage one point, although against the Bulldogs the full two were definitely on the table. The Cents built up a 3-0 lead through the first 40 minutes of play with some of their strongest play to date. A breakaway goal from Hunor Torzsok, a solid play off the half-wall from Daniel Tkac, and a heads up play from Josh Kagan had the Cents in the driver seat heading into the third period. However, a penalty with no time remaining at the end of the 2nd meant that the Cents would start shorthanded and with just 3 seconds left on the penalty kill to start the third, the Bulldogs would score on a deflection to beat an otherwise otherworldly performance from Winter to start the comeback. Jackson Doucet would add another after keeping and firing on a 2-on-1 to make it 3-2, and the Bulldogs would complete the comeback with 6 minutes to go in the third with a partial breakaway effort. The game would go the full distance after that as OT solved nothing and the game went to a shootout. The Cents had solid moves from Tkac, Kagan, and Buono in the skills contest, but it was a wrister up top from the Bulldogs that clinched the game for former Assistant Coach Brandon Shaw and Alberni Valley.
The Vernon Vipers are coming in off a win, but have had their share of ups and downs this year. They’ve lost starter Max Palaga to long term injury, and in the first meeting of the season between these two teams may have been where he initially provoked his injury. In their last 5 games, the Vipers won 2-0 versus Salmon Arm, lost 4-3 to the Surrey Eagles, lost 3-1 to the Langley Rivermen, won 2-1 in a shootout versus Salmon Arm, and loss in a tight 2-1 game to the Coquitlam Express.
The season series sits 0-2 for the Cents as the first game and visit to Vernon saw the Cents run into bus trouble and have a late start. Despite goals from Captain Rylan Van Unen and Thomas Manty to tie the game at 2’s after 1, the Vipers responded with 3 unanswered to win 5-2. The second contest was much closer and it came right after the firing of Barry Wolff, and the Cents suffered a late heart breaker in the final minute to fall 3-2 in regulation.
Josh Kagan continues to lead the way with 2 goals in the last two games with 29 points, Daniel Tkac has also tallied twice in the last two and it will be his last game before departing for Team Slovakia at the World Juniors – he has 22 points, and Christian Buono has 19 points.
The Vipers are led by hometown kid Matt Kowalski with 26 points, Captain Connor Marritt has 21, and WHL pickup Dawson Holt has 16 points.
The special teams battle sees the Cents looking to earn a few more opportunities while staying out of the box themselves.
Powerplay: Penalty Kill:
Cents – 8.1% (17th) Cents – 71.1% (16th)
Vipers – 11.2% (16th) Vipers – 87.6% (3rd)
The goaltending duel sees Winter come in hot despite not being able to pick up the win in his last two contests. He’s 2-10-2 with a .912 SV%, a 3.72 GAA, and 1 shutout. Tanner Marshall is 5-9 with an .879 SV% and a 4.61 GAA.
The Vipers acquired Reilly Herbst just before Palaga went down, and he’s been sensational so far. He’s 11-2-1 with a .929 SV%, a 1.98 GAA, and 1 shutout. James Porter Jr has served as the backup and is 0-4 with an .899 SV% and a 2.79 GAA.
Head Coach Derek Sweet-Coulter says the Cents just need to string their combined efforts over 60 minutes.
“I think if we bring the effort we had in that 3rd period against Langley, and the first two against Alberni we have a win. Playing hard to the end is what we need.”
The Cents will look to combine for their first win in 5 games.
Puck drop 7pm from Kal Tire Place. Pre-Game 6:45 on Q101 and HockeyTV with Jared Thomas.