Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Centennials Swarm Smoke Eaters Backed By Cuglietta Hat Trick:

Offense came from all angles at all times for the Merritt Centennials on Tuesday night against the Trail Smoke Eaters, as the Cents picked up an 8-1 victory to pull back within a point of Salmon Arm for the final playoff spot.

Diego Cuglietta took home first star honours with a hat trick for the 23-18-4-1 Cents, as Scott Patterson added a pair of goals as well as a pair of helpers. Gavin Gould, Adam Tracey and Payton Schaefer each chipped in with a pair of points as Devin Kero made 14 of 15 saves through 40 minutes before allowing 17-year old Kristian Stead to step in for the third, making 11 saves of his own.

Zane Schartz scored the lone goal for the struggling 9-34-2-3 Smoke Eaters, with the assists coming to Jeremy McNeil and Greysen Reitmeier. In goal, Dustin Nikkel and Nate Rabbitt split duties with Nikkel stopping 27 of 33 and Rabbitt 6 of 8.

The Centennials and Smokies will meet again in Trail on Saturday, but the Cents host West Kelowna on Friday night in the game prior.

The offense got going early when Dane Birks cleared the puck ahead to Scott Patterson who cut through the offensive zone all alone and was initially stopped by Dustin Nikkel but caught his own rebound to open the scoring just 1:02 in to the opening period. Payton Schaefer also picked up and assist on the play. Just prior to the midway mark Diego Cuglietta and Gavin Gould burst in to the zone on a rush and Cuglietta picked up his own bouncing puck and put it by Nikkel for his first goal of the night and 12th of the season. Assists went to Scott Patterson and Dan Nachbaur, who would later leave the game after blocking a shot. At 15:32, immediately after an offensive zone draw Patterson put home his 3rd point of the night after a shot from Jason Bird, who got an assist along with Schaefer. To wrap up the opening period, Gavin Gould took advantage of a Smoke Eater mis-read as he caught the puck in the slot and cut toward the goal for his 10th goal of the campaign, and it was a nice one as he juked the goaltender out before sliding the puck past. That would do it for the opening period as the Centennials clobbered Trail, up 4-0 on the score and 16-3 in shots. 

You know that the Smoke Eaters wanted to deliver some energy and Jake Clifford was the chosen combatant for Adam Wheeldon just over five minutes in to the 2nd, as the two players squared up deep in the Centennial zone and Clifford got the first heavy right in, which proved to be enough as Wheeldon would later stumble to his knees. Shortly after that, Malik Kaila delivered a check in the neutral zone which caught a Trail players knee, ending Kaila's night and putting the Cents down a man for 5 minutes. Brandon Volpe got a 2-on-1 feed and was robbed by Devin Kero shortly after the scrap, as Kero got down and spread his pads across the posts'. It was Adam Tracey who took advantage of the special teams as he scored a shorthanded marker when he stopped up on the left side hashmarks during an odd man rush, and identified the shot and beat Nikkel to put Merritt up 5-0 on Tracey's 8th with the assist to Tyler Martin. Late in the period, with the Cents on the man advantage, Sebastien Pare was penalized with a high stick on Wheeldon, which wouldn't be called for nearly two minutes later. It was called after the Cents made it 6-0, but the goal was waved off as the linesman made the call but isn't allowed to wave the goal off. He is however allowed to hold his arm up, so the decision came as a surprise to everyone in the rink who didn't see the high stick initially. Trail made Merritt pay as Jeremy McNeil made a drop pass to Zane Schartz just inside the blue line, who wired a shot past Kero to make it 5-1 with 1:48 left in the period. Merritt was up 5-1 heading to the break, and outshot Trail 14-12.

Less than a minute in to the third, Cuglietta went in shorthanded and added his 2nd of the night to make it 6-1 at just :59 seconds. Kristian Stead, the Cents' call up from the KIJHL and local boy, made a big stop to break in his mental approach to his BCHL debut. Merritt would add another at 2:51 when Rhett Willcox made a nice play at the side of the night to snap the puck past then-Trail goaltender Nate Rabbitt; whose BCHL profile claims he is from Merritt though he is a Michigan boy. Willcox's 5th got assists from Tracey and Shane Poulsen. The hat trick would be complete as Diego Cuglietta put up another 10:57 in to the third, when he got the puck just in front of the Smokie goal. Patterson and Pare picked up the helpers as the Centennials went up 8-1. Stead would show some heroics shortly thereafter as Bryan Basilico couldn't beat the youngster in goal, before play went down the other way for a Cents chance; then magic happened. Stead got sliding to the right side of the net as the puck went left and he dove across with his paddle and kept the momentum going personally and for his team. Stead finished with 11 stops as Devin Kero made 14 of 15, giving Trail 26 shots compared to 41 from Merritt. The Centennials improved to 23-18-4-1 with an 8-1 win.

View the boxscore here. 

The Centennials host the West Kelowna Warriors on Friday night in yet-another biggest game of the season. Game time at the NVMA is 7:30 as the Q101 broadcast begins at 7:00. After that, the Cents visit the Cominco Arena in Trail on Saturday night.

Friday night's game is Family Night, with $20.00 admission for a family of four, and just $5.00 tickets for each additional child after that!

See you at the rink. 

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