Photo credit: Lorne White
The 1st place in the Interior Division Merritt Centennials (7-6) will take on the 4th place West Kelowna Warriors (6-5) for the first time this season tonight at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena.
The two clubs split the season series last year 3-3 with each team winning twice on home ice, and once as the visitors. 4 of the games featured a lot of offense, as the teams combined for 6 goals or more, and with the way these two teams are playing we could be heading that way again. The Centennials continue to lead the league in scoring with 47 goals to date, but the Warriors are tied for second in the Interior Division with 38 goals. However, the Warriors have only allowed 34 goals against while the Centennials have allowed 51.
The Cents are coming off a penalty filled game against the Penticton Vees that saw the Cents go to the box for 9 minor penalties, and they’d surrender 3 goals while short a man. The Cents got goals in the 3rd period from Mike Van Unen, his first of the season, and Matt Kopperud, his 5th of the year and the Cents second short handed goal of the season. The game saw some late rough stuff as well as Christian Sabin dropped the gloves and pummeled the Vees defender in the Cents first fight of the season. Despite the late efforts, the Cents dug their grave too deep and fell 6-2 to Penticton.
The Warriors are back in the win column after topping the Victoria Grizzlies in their last game 4-1. By all accounts that was also a lopsided game in terms of penalties, and the Warriors had trouble with the extra man, but still found a way to win. Before that win, they dropped 2 decisions to Salmon Arm, but have also shown they can get hot with a 4 game win streak already early in the year.
Discipline will be a key factor, as the Centennials have 3 defenseman in the top 10 in penalty minutes. Mike Van Unen, Joey Berkopec, and Brady Ziemer sit 6,7,8 league-wide in regards to the sin bin with 24, 24, and 22 minutes of penalties a piece. The Cents have had the most powerplay opportunities in the league with 78, and they’ve also spent the most time short handed with 75 penalties against. The Centennials may be struggling with their special teams units, but eliminating needless penalties like the extra shots to the back in the corner, slashes, and other stick work would help them stay 5-on-5 where they’re the most talented group in the league.
Brad Cocca continues to pick up points, now 4th in the league with 16, and Nick Granowicz sits 10th in BCHL scoring with 14.
The Warriors have a representative in the top 10 in BCHL scoring with Willie Reim sitting 6th with 15 points throughout the early season. Other top threats on the Warriors: Mike Hardman – 12 points, Max Bulawka – 11 points, and defender Wyatt Head with 10 points.
The special teams edge goes to the Warriors. Despite struggling in their last game on the powerplay, they’re second in the league with a 25% conversion rate. The Cents are 15th in the league at 14.1%. On the penalty kill the Cents will have some company as it’s the battle of the two worst teams short manned. The Cents are 17th at 72% while the Warriors are just above them at 74.3%.
The battle of the blue paint will see the Cents looking for a strong start from their goaltender. Vincent Duplessis saw his personal win streak snapped at 3 with the loss to the Vees on Wednesday and now sits 3-3 with a .885 SV% and a 3.57 GAA. Austin Roden has dropped his last two starts and has fallen to 4-3 with a .877 SV% and a 4.10GAA. The Warriors have been getting solid goaltending from Connor Hopkins who is 5-3 with a .910 SV% and a 3.11 GAA, and they’ve just acquired Brock Baier from the WHL’s Windsor Spitfires and he is 1-1 with a .919 SV%and a 2.56 GAA.
Head Coach Joe Martin says the Centennials need to show some of the extra gear they had late against the Penticton Vees to get past the Warriors.
“I think we proved we have another level that we can play at, and we’ll need to use it against the Warriors if we want to beat them.”
The Cents will hope to stay at the level they are in the standings, and to do that they’ll need to pick up a win tonight against the Warriors.
Puck Drop 7pm, Pre-Game 6:45 on HockeyTV and Q101.ca.