Sunday, September 22, 2013

Centennials Get Deserved OT Win In Vernon:

The Vernon Vipers came out as fans aware of their situation expected; fast and aggressive and tenacious offensively. They were able to score early, and it seemed as though they might have found their niche.

But that would change, the Merritt Centennials game turned around near the midway point of the opening period and never looked back, scoring twice in the 2nd and Gavin Gould potted the winner with 1:21 left in overtime en route to a 3-2 Centennial final score.

In goal, Connor LaCouvee made his Centennials debut and he was sharp as could be, ESPECIALLY considering how many games he'd played this season. He kept out 32 of 34 shots, 11 of which came in the first 6-7 minutes of the hockey game.

Vernon's Austin Smith was very good in the net, although I'm sure his left leg will be sore today from making so many saves with it. He stopped 36 of 39, including 14 in the 1st period.

Mason Blacklock opened the scoring when he sniped a shot in the top right corner from the slot with Trail boys Dallas Calvin and Craig Martin drawing in on the assists. Martin made it 2-0 at the side of the net just under 10 minutes later, with help from TJ Dumonceaux and Liam Coughlin. Shots were 14-14 after the opening period, with the majority of the Vipers pressure coming early in the period. The play of Blacklock impressed me in the 1st, and I wouldn't be surprised if he continues to light the lamp this season before heading to Michigan Tech in the fall of 2014. Merritt improved their play immensely from start to finish in the period, with much of their shot count coming in the final half of the period.

In the middle frame, the Cents continued their rally by scoring 6:40 in when Gavin Gould found a puck near the blueline, wove his way in to the slot and sniped his 2nd goal of the season. Adam Tracey and James Neil picked up the assists, with Neil providing excellent offensive support to lead to the puck pressure for Merritt. 10 minutes later, a goalmouth scramble resulted in captain Payton Schaefer tying the contest up, after Malik Kaila made a nice dish in front and James Neil and Schaefer wacked away until the puck went in. The game was knotted up at 2 after 40 minutes with the Cents in front on the shot clock 26-22.

The 3rd period produced little to elaborate on, although both goaltenders had to make some big saves on difficult sequences. Cents 'tendy Connor LaCouvee made 2 or 3 huge stops to keep the game tied, while Smith did the exact same in the Vernon net. This was an exciting period that just failed to produce any offense, and it also failed to produce a single penalty, something both teams did a good job of avoiding in the game. Shots in the 3rd were 12-11 Cents, and after regulation they led 38-33.

In overtime, Gavin Gould would be the hero when he worked a perfect tic-tac-toe with Scott Patterson behind the net and finished it off with a toe drag to the backhand and in to the back of the net. Gould's 2nd of the net allowed him to show some excitement and jump in to the glass and encourage more noise from a strong gathering of Cents supporters. It was a much needed win for the Cents as they showed the effort Coach Luke Pierce was waiting to see, and they had just 16 skaters in the lineup, 10 of which were rookies.

Merritt's record is now 3-4-0-0 as they move a point back of Trail for 3rd in the Interior with 6 points. Vernon falls to 1-2-1-2 and is tied for last with Salmon Arm, despite having played one less game than Trail and Merritt both.

Merritt is off until next Friday, when the South Okanagan Events Centre welcomes the club for the first time this season. The Vees host the Cents beginning at 7:00 PM that night, with the pregame show beginning 30 minutes prior on Q101. The Cents return home that Sunday to face Cowichan Valley at 2 PM.

Shout out to Vernon's Colton Sparrow. I never got the chance to get to know him well growing up but we have more than our fair share of friends in common, and his disappointment in the loss was evident as he sat in the booth frustrated post game for near 10 minutes. Sparrow is in his final season of Junior but is nursing an injury, but when he returns to the Vipers lineup; think David Morelli, Chad Murray, those types of local guys who have gone on to play KEY roles in the keys successes. That's the type of player Sparrow will prove to be, and for a kid who has grown up wearing that logo all through minor hockey, he has earned a chance to show the City what he has and who he is.

Anyway, much like Sparrow, injuries are a problem right now for the Merritt Centennials. A good 6 days off here for the team will be key in allowing for evaluation of some guys and essential rest for others. They worked hard last night and are deserving of the day off they're getting today. Guys like Wayland Williams, Russell Sanderson, and Malik Kaila will be looking to fill their extra time with a little GTA V, while I'm sure the rest of the boys will be on NHL 14.

On the topic of passing along some notes... Luke Pierce and Joe Martin deserve some praise for their hard work as of late. Their duties go so far beyond the dressing room and I haven't been around them for even 3 weeks and already I see how important they are to the organization and how important the organization is to them. It's going to be a fun tenure here in Merritt, and I'm very excited to be able to work with such great guys in the seasons to come.

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