Merritt had goals from seven different players to improve to 25-18-4-1, including a pair from Sebastien Pare and Jeff Wight each, while James Neal, Scott Patterson, Gavin Gould and Diego Cuglietta all had multi point nights.
Taylor Armbruster scored his first BCHL goal to put the Smoke Eaters up a pair midway through the first, and went on to tie the game twice in the second period for his first ever hat-trick. Joel Webb had a pair of assists for Trail, who fell to a league-worst 9-36-2-3.
Devin Kero was relieved in the second period after surrendering four goals, and Jarrod Schamerhorn settled in to his Centennials debut as the pair combined for 25 saves. Nate Rabbitt started for Trail and made 34 of 42 saves.
The Centennials are now off for the week before hosting the West Kelowna Warriors again in a Friday night classic in Merritt.
Okay, here we go... Scoring started when the Smoke Eaters won an offensive zone face-off to the left of Devin Kero, with the draw being won right to Bryan Basilico who sent it in to the net 2:55 in from Brandon Volpe. Sheldon Brett set up Jake Lucchini in front of the Cents net as Kero made the stop near the five minute mark, but the Smokies would respond again as Jake Lucchini dropped the puck inside the zone for Taylor Armbruster who ripped home his BCHL-first. James Neal set up in front of the net just prior to the 13:00 mark, and he got a pass from the back of the net from Diego Cuglietta and sent a quick shot past Rabbitt to make it a 2-1 game. After the goal, you could see the Centennials were not going to have any part of trailing the Smoke Eaters much longer. A couple unlikely rushes were just stopped but would have made for excitement as Jake Clifford dangled his way through everyone and Malik Kaila was set up on an odd man rush from Gavin Gould. Jeff Wight tied the game with just :16 seconds left in the opening period as a point shot from Tyler Martin off a Cuglietta face-off win resulted in a rebound bouncing to Wight who picked up his 19th and 20th goals of the season in the game. Merritt outshot Trail 17-9 in the opening period as the teams were tied 2-2.
Very early in the second we would see the Smoke Eaters re-take the lead as Scott Davidson wheeled wide on the Centennials defenders and sent a shot past Kero just :12 seconds in to the period, from Joel Webb. Merritt struck back at 4:12 as Zach Hartley was in the right spot to collect a Tyler Martin deflection and calm the puck down to shoot and score on Rabbitt to make it 3-3 from Dane Birks. The Centennials took their first lead of the game when Gavin Gould and Scott Patterson skated away on a 2-on-1. Patterson found his spot early and waited for the right time to beat the goaltender, making it 4-3 at 6:16. At 7:29, Trail tied it once more as Taylor Armbruster picked up a shot that was blocked and went right to him, shooting it through traffic and Kero to make it 4-4. Gould gave Merritt the restored lead at 9:11 as Sebastien Pare caught the speedster moving in to the slot who fired the water bottle off the top of the net. At the media timeout, Devin Kero stayed on the bench and was replaced by Jarrod Schamerhorn, undoubtedly with some fatigue setting in for the Cents net minder after a high octane game on Friday. Scott Davidson cut through the inside of the Cents' blue line as Rhett Willcox moved the puck up ice, before dishing off and preparing for open ice. Davidson then swung his hip in to the knee of Willcox and the Centennial spark plug would leave the game and attend hospital with a lower body injury. No call was made on the play. Taylor Armbruster got the hat trick at 13:35 as his shot looked to deflect off the leg of a Centennial, making the game 5-5 and fortunately that's all we got from the second. For goals. Patterson and Webb dropped the mitts shortly after the goal, as Patterson continues to show he can lead this team in many ways. The clubs would then have struggles for the last 4:00 or so, as the line that had been drawn for much of the game was moved and special teams were given their opportunities, although just the 3rd Armbruster goal goes down as a powerplay marker. Merritt outshot Trail in the period 14-13 with a 5-5 split.
Just under 6:00 minutes in to the third, Jason Bird would be ejected for being a little too vocal with the stripes(Grant Tyson), as playing in Vernon has seen him face last night's official several times so with history may come some adversity. Justice would eventually be served on Davidson as he got a stick up on Patterson(I believe) and had to sit off for a four minute double minor. Sebastien Pare made Trail pay not once, but twice on the man advantage, with his 10th and 11th goals of the season putting him just 3 points back of 100 BCHL points. Assists to Cuglietta on the first and Patterson on the second goal. Cuglietta now has 12 points in his last 8 games, chipping in big time to an offence that has also seen 9 points in 7 games from Wight, and Scott Patterson now has 9 points in his last 4 games. The Smokies cut back in to the Cents lead at 12:25 as Sheldon Brett went in on a breakaway and snapped the puck past Schamerhorn to make it a one goal game once again, 7-6 Merritt. With 1:53 left, Adam Tracey showed some moves and speed as the goaltender came far out to challenge and Tracey slipped by on the left and fired the puck past to seal the deal on his 9th of the year. Jeff Wight sealed the deal some more with :31 seconds left as he got a drop pass from Cuglietta, who was set up by James Neal, to slide the puck in to the empty net. That line for the Cents was incredible all night long, combining for 8 points in the game. Merritt outshot Trail 12-8 in the third, and 43-30 overall, taking a 9-6 victory. It wasn't pretty, but it's two points.
With Salmon Arm also picking up a win as well as Vernon, these points could be marked up as critical or irrelevant, either way you write it. Guaranteed to be crucial points will be on the line on Friday night when the Centennials look to pull back past Salmon Arm in the standings. This was one of those games where the positives were really positive but there were far too many mistakes that cost the Cents, although they maybe shouldn't be sent as mental mistakes, rather mistakes due to being fairly drained from Friday night. No excuses anyways in hockey.
It's another near-week long week as the Centennials get back to the rink on Monday to start preparing for the West Kelowna Warriors once again on Friday night. It will be Family Night 2.0 as well as Elementary Night, with free admission for all students of Merritt-area elementary schools! On top of that, tickets are just $20.00 for two adults and two children passes.
Gametime Friday is 7:30, while the Q101 pre game show gets going at 7:00 PM!
Notes: Was great to have some parents in town for the week/weekend, I know the kids really appreciate your support, as does the organization's off ice staff. I got to meet Randy Emery in Trail on Saturday, the photographer who took the picture of me when I was trying out for the Smoke Eaters, so that was a bit of a cool experience to put a face to the name. Also great to see Billy Birks out at last night's game.