With the series now tied at 1-1, the Merritt Centennials have arrived to face the Trail Smoke Eaters in Game 3 of their first round series.
The Cents are trying to recapture the high of Game 1, while moving on from the low of Game 2. The team is facing their first bit of adversity and they might as well get it out of the way early, but it’s also the first bit of adversity in 7 games or almost a month of hockey. One thing that seeps in on a winning streak at times is complacency. The Cents needed a wake up call, they got it in Game 2, and now it’s time to see if they will answer the bell.
In Game 1, a strong start went unrewarded and Trail was able to convert on their first chance and took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission. The second was a different story as Matt Kopperud scored in the first and last minute of the period, and Mike Van Unen added a powerplay marker in the middle to give the Cents a 3-2 edge after 2. Nick Granowicz got some late insurance to get a two goal edge late in the game, and the Cents hung on for the 2 goal victory.
Game 2 started much the same. Solid Cents pressure to begin with, but Trail scoring on one of their first chances, and then tallying on a PP as well in the first. Kopperud was able to bulge the twine on a PP goal for the Cents to make it 2-1 after 1, but it started to unravel after that. The Cents were guilty of not having a team effort, not making the simple play, and as a result not being able to muster much offensively at all. Time after time they tried to dangle into the zone, and were quickly checked by the Smoke Eaters at the blue line and the puck was cleared down the ice. The Cents surrendered another goal in the 2nd to go down 3-1 before getting back within one early in the first on a wraparound try from Rylan Van Unen. The Cents couldn’t seize the momentum surrendered a breakaway goal, and another PP goal to lose the game 5-2.
Early on in the series, at least on the road, it seems the Smoke Eaters game plan has been to clear pucks quickly, up the wall, off the glass, through the air whenever the puck is in their defensive zone. This strategy has neutralized one of the Cents biggest weapons – their forecheck. The Cents will now need to adapt, up the intensity, and simply have the bigger will to win to come out with at least a split in Trail. We could see some changes made to the group up front.
The Cents are getting a solid performance from Matt Kopperud as he has 3 goals early in the series, Nick Granowicz has a goal and a helper, and Brendan Schneider has helped set up 2 goals.
The Smoke Eaters are led by Mack Byers who has 2 goals and an assist, Tyler Ghirardosi has a goal and 2 helpers, and rookie Kent Johnson has 2 goals.
It didn’t take long for the special teams game to swing back into the Smoke Eaters favour, the Cents will hope the pendulum swings back their way for Game 3.
Powerplay: Penalty Kill:
Trail – 40% (3rd) Trail – 71.4% (8th)
Cents – 28.6% (9th) Cents – 60% (13th)
The goaltending duel sees Austin Roden also looking to rebound after his first loss in nearly a month. Roden is 1-1 with a .887 SV% and a 3.50 GAA. Donovan Buskey returns home with a 1-1 record, a .915 SV% and a 3.00 GAA.
Head Coach Joe Martin was not happy with his teams effort in game 2.
“We were too cute at times, we were looking for a play that wasn’t there, that I was saying wasn’t there for the whole game. We need to change it up.”
The Cents will hope to bring the effort tonight.
Puck Drop 7pm. Pre-Game 6:45 on Hockey TV and Q101.ca with Jared Thomas. Check out the Cents watch party at the Grand Pub and Grill or the Merritt Desert Inn to cheer on the home town team with friends and fans.