Sunday, December 8, 2013

Pair Of Goals In Third Period Lifts Cents To Road Win In Trail:

After falling to the Penticton Vees on home ice 24 hours prior, the Merritt Centennials continued to show persistence on the road in Trail on Saturday night, pulling away with a 4-3 win at the Cominco Arena.

In his return to the lineup, Adam Tracey put up a goal and an assist, including an early-2nd period goal to give Merritt their first lead. Rhett Willcox was the first to strike for Merritt, while Jeff Wight and Shane Poulsen added singles. 

Devin Kero made 29 of 32 saves for his 10th BCHL win, which helps the Centennials improve to 17-13-2-1 on the season. 

Braden Pears opened the scoring early in the game, while Travis Stephens and Adam Wheeldon chipped in with goals as Sheldon Brett had a pair of helpers, his first points in the BCHL. 

In goal for the 7-22-2-1 Smoke Eaters was Adam Todd, who made 19 saves in the opening period and 44 of 48 overall.

Merritt is now off for the week before visiting the West Kelowna Warriors on Friday. 

Both teams came out with a back-and-forth pace in the opening period, with the Centennials beginning to find their stride more toward the middle mark of the period. Trail hit the back of the net first as the puck slid to Braden Pears in the high slot, as he was able to beat a challenging Devin Kero. The games first goal came just over 3:30 in to the game, but the Centennials were pretty quick to respond as a clearing attempt set up Rhett Willcox on a breakaway three minutes later. Willcox looked to go low glove but Adam Todd made the first stop before losing the rebound as Willcox took a second swipe at it for his 3rd goal of the season. That goal ended up being unassisted, and the Centennials went on to hold the majority of pressure in the period, outshooting Trail 20-8 despite the two teams heading to the break in a 1-1 draw. 

Nick Deschennes' team came out with a much stronger start to the 2nd, with more crisp passes being made in the Smoke Eater zone which made it a little tougher for the Centennials to plug the neutral zone. Trail wasn't able to get a whole lot of great angle shots at 5-on-5, and great defensive positioning had many shooting lanes cut off on the two Trail powerplays. Adam Tracey gave the Cents their first lead of the night after Rhett Willcox turned spark to flame with a pair of big checks in neutral zone. Willcox set up Tracey for a two-on-one, and Tracey looked for the shot and he made it count as the powerful wrister beat Todd for #10's 4th goal of the season. Shane Poulsen also gathered an assist on the goal. :48 seconds later, the other #10 would strike as Travis Stephens scored his team leading 9th of the season on a solo effort similar to Penticton's game winning goal on Friday night; as he walked around the left wing circle and fired a snap shot past the goaltender. Just under a minute later, Trail was back at it again as Adam Wheeldon deflected a shot past Kero after the shot was released from Jake Lucchini, which also deflected off Dane Birks' before reaching Wheeldon. Merritt would go on to outshoot Trail 14-12 in the period, but a pair of goals in the period had Trail up 3-2 after 40 minutes. 

Merritt returned to what made them successful to start the 3rd period, and then some. One rare thing we've seen this season is a quick shot right off the face off, and Jeff Wight showed fans' why the quick shot is so exciting as he sniped one in to the top shelf just moments after Diego Cuglietta won the draw right to Wight's stick. Wight's 14th of the year came at 5:56. The Centennials would get a middle period powerplay, and Shane Poulsen was once again able to get a shot towards the goal from the blue line, but the lack of wrist shot and presence of the slap shot was enough for the shot to trick Todd, giving Merritt the eventual game winner on Shane's 4th of the season. Cuglietta would get his 2nd assist on the goal while Sebastien ParĂ© also drew in with an assist, his team leading 22nd. Jake Clifford and a Trail player became tangled up in the final minute and much to the disapproval of fans in Trail, coincidentals were issued and the Smokies lost their chance to be up 6-on-4 with the empty net. The Cents did a good job of clearing their own zone in the final moments, with one late icing giving the Smoke Eaters a final opportunity. The final buzzer would sound and the Centennials were able to get their first win in six contests, dating back to a 5-4 win over the Surrey Eagles on November 22nd. Final score 4-3, final shots 48-32; both favoring Merritt. 

I thought the team came back with a much more consistent effort in this game, although there was some 4-5 minute hiccups(from both sides). Wayland Williams played one of his best games in a Centennials jersey, while Bennett Huber once again earns a mention for his hard work with his team shorthanded. Bennett reminds me of a (much) more-talented Dustin Scafe, as I loved to kill penalties and hold the wall in the defensive zone, something Bennett did a great job of doing in Trail. Shane Poulsen picked up the well deserved goal, after he logged big minutes and played a big role. You can't say enough of the Tracey-Hartley-Willcox line, they provided offence(x2) and everything else the coach asked of them, including energy and physicality.

With the win, the Centennials stay level with Salmon Arm for 3rd in the Interior Division with 37 points, 6 back of Vernon and 7 points back of Penticton. 

The Centennials haven't faced the West Kelowna Warriors since September, and the clubs' will do battle once again at Royal LePage Place in Westbank on Friday night. 

Game time is 7:00, while the Q101 broadcast begins at 6:30.

After Friday, there are just a pair of games left until the Christmas Break, and both of those contests will see the Salmon Arm Silverbacks hit the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena ice.  

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