The Centennials had won four straight prior to a 4-3 OT loss to Vernon on Friday, and they turned things around quickly as James Neil scored early, late, and even in-between to give the Centennials a 3-1 win over Mike Vandekamp's Clippers.
Neil's hat-trick gives him nine goals on the season, while the Centennials improved to 15-9-1-1 on the season, keeping on pace with Vernon atop the Interior Division.
Devin Kero made 23 saves in the victory as the Centennials outshot Nanaimo 54-24 in the contest, which included 21 shots in the opening period.
Jayson Argue was phenomenal in goal for the Clippers, making 51 saves, as Nanaimo fell to 13-11-0-1. Corey Renwick has been credited with the lone goal, his 2nd of the season.
Three penalties in the opening 5:00 of the game didn't allow either team to develop a good start to the 5-on-5 transitional game, but a Clipper penalty at the 3:30 mark allowed the Centennials to hem down pressure on the Clippers and that energy seemed to carry through the whole game. At the 3:56 mark, James Neil beat goaltender Jayson Argue at the side of the goal as Shane Poulsen worked the puck on net where Bennett Huber dug away to free it up for Neil for his 6th of the season. Both teams began to show some tempers as the period wound down, and that business was definitely not dealt with heading in to the intermission. Merritt played, in my eyes, what could have been their best period of hockey of the season, and it paid off with 21 shots compared to Nanaimo's 8.
Merritt continued to show the same work ethic and forecheck in the middle frame, although goals were nowhere to be found for either club. Another thing that carried over from the first was the physicality and the obvious presence of some tension. This was a difficult game for the officials to manage and I think they did a good job of keeping both teams at equal distance as not one glove was shed, and despite some question calls and no-calls, there is a reason only played had to serve anything more than a 2-minute minor. The best of the action in the second period would come late in the period, as it felt like from the 15:00 to 5:00 marks there was nothing but whistles, with drama brewing after most of those whistles. Argue made his best save of the game late in the second when he robbed Tyler Martin on a bullet from the blue line, reaching his glove out and spreading the legs to make for highlight-reel quality. Devin Kero then called his glove and raised him a blocker moments later, making a sharp glove stop on a Clipper rush. Merritt controlled the majority of the pace, albeit slower than the first, outshooting Nanaimo 18-7.
I said late in the second period that a late-period goal would boost the scoring team to a win, and although the late goal didn't come, an early one did. James Neil was set up with a gift from Gavin Gould just :56 seconds in, bow-tie and all. Roofing it by the Clipper netminder, Neil put the Cents up 2-0 as Diego Cuglietta drew the second assist after missing the Friday game with illness, the same illness that forced Rhett Willcox and Russell Sanderson out of the lineup on Sunday. Late in the period, Nanaimo began their push as the stripes' put away the whistles for the final 10 minutes. Corey Renwick was given a puck in the slot as he beat Kero for his 2nd goal of the season, as Eric Margo and Ryan Forbes garnered helpers. That line developed the opportunity with a strong forecheck, and Luke Pierce said after the game that the goal was a perfect play and it wasn't caused by any Centennial mistakes. Goaltender Argue raced to the bench in the final minute as Nanaimo looked towards the goal, but pucks kept bouncing along the boards and the Cents were able to skate away with it, three to centre. James Neil moved up the right wing, with clogged options in the middle and an open shot for the empty net; he chose to creatively pass to the far side, but the pass bounced off sticks and legs right back to Neil, who finished off the karmatic hat-trick to seal the deal. The final six seconds ran down and the Centennials improved to 15-9-1-1, which keeps them tied with Vernon atop the division(32 points).
There weren't many areas of the Merritt game you can look back at and say needed tweaking. They played a near-perfect home game, and as Pierce said on the post game show, there hasn't been the kind of solo-domination in a Cents jersey quite like James Neil showed fans. Neil was supported by a perfect supporting cast, as the Centennials played smart in all areas of the ice. Showing strong games were Bennett Huber and Zach Hartley, despite being placed in to situations and lines otherwise unfamiliar. Cuglietta was great once again, playing key in the face-off circle, while the line of Patterson-Wight-Pare had plenty of chances but just couldn't get one to go. After a strong game on Friday, Sam Johnson also showed hustle and hands, nearly converting on two or three chances. Can I keep going? Payton Schaefer and Tyler Martin were heart-and-soul guys all game long, and showed why they have C's on their jerseys. Devin Kero was... once again great. He is so strong positionally and his reflexes were spot-on despite it being a middle of the day game.
Impessing for the Clippers, as I said, was their goaltender Jayson Argue. He was fantastic and the only reason Nanaimo didn't lose this game by a much different score. There seemed to be some frustration building, and being expressed, from the Clipper players, but you have to commend AP Spencer Loverock for keeping his nose to the grindstone, and keeping focussed on the game in front of him. Bo Brauer and Spencer Hewson both were business-first players from puck drop and played hard in the neutral zone and Hewson was the best penalty killer on the ice tonight. Austin Dick also had the puck ALOT, and never seemed to lose it unless he was passing off to a team mate.
Your Centennials have a home-and-home series with the struggling Surrey Eagles this coming weekend, beginning in the Nicola Valley on Friday night! Puck drop is 7:30, and it's the final home game before the BCHL Five Hole for Food Challenge, which takes place November 30th!
The 2nd game of the weekend goes on Saturday in Surrey, puck drop is 7:00. As always, your Norgaard Ready Mix Pregame show begins 30 minutes prior to game time!
Notes: It was great to have finally met long-time BCHL play by play voice Dan Marshall. Dan worked in Penticton prior to Nanaimo so I have been aware of his great ability for a long time! Mike Vandekamp and Trainer Rhett White were two faces I haven't seen in a couple years, so it was also nice to catch up with them! Mike had an opportunity to catch up with some in-laws before player meetings started, must be nice to come back and feel a sense of comfort!
Daniel Nachbaur, who has played just eight games this season, is close to returning to the lineup.