Thursday, August 28, 2014

It's Go Time - Centennials Training Camp Opens Tomorrow(Friday):

This is from Ian Webster at the Merritt Herald:

Another exciting season of Merritt Centennials hockey begins on Friday of this week with the start of training camp at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena.

“We have very high expectations for both our returning players and the new incoming players,” Cents head coach and GM Luke Pierce said.
“They’re a very talented group.”

An estimated 40 skaters will be on hand for the Cents’ main camp, which will run until Sept. 7 and include four exhibition games — two against the West Kelowna Warriors and two versus the Trail Smoke Eaters.

The players in attendance at this year’s camp will be vying for one of 22 coveted positions on the Centennials’ roster for the start of the 2014-15 BCHL season.

As has been the case the last two seasons, the Centennials have 11 returning players from the team that finished fourth in the BCHL’s highly-competitive Interior Division in 2013-14 with a 31-22-4-1 record, good for 67 points.

The returning group of Centennials includes defencemen Jake Clifford (94), Shane Poulsen (94) and Malik Kaila (96), along with forwards Sam Johnson (94), Devin Oakes (95), Diego Cuglietta (95), Daniel Nachbaur (95), James Neil (95), Adam Tracey (95), Rhett Willcox (96) and Gavin Gould (96).

Gone from last year’s team are graduated 20-year-olds Scotty Patterson and Jason Bird (both to Lake Superior State University), Sebastien Pare (Mount Royal University) and Payton Schaefer and Tyler Martin (both retired).

Also departed from last season’s club are scholarship athletes Dane Birks and Devin Kero (Michigan State University), Jeff Wight (University of Connecticut), Wayland Williams (Amarillo Bulls of the NAHL), Zach Hartley (retired) and Jarrod Schammerhorn (traded to the Vernon Vipers).

The Centennials made one major deal in the off-season, acquiring veteran goaltender Jonah Imoo from the Powell River Kings for future considerations.

A native of Surrey, the 20-year-old Imoo has three years of playing experience in the BCHL, has competed in two Fred Page Cup league finals and played for Team Canada West at the 2012 World Junior A Challenge.

“Having a proven goaltender in Jonah is very important,” Pierce said. “Last year, [rookie] Devin Kero turned out to be phenomenal, but you can’t always count on that.”

Backing up Imoo in all liklihood will be 19-year-old Anthony Pupplo from Shirley, New York. Pupplo played last season for the P.A.L. Jr. Islanders on Long Island.

“I really like the goalie tandem we have,” said Pierce. “Hopefully, they can both stay healthy and push each other.”

With just three returning defencemen, the Cents’ blueline will see several new faces this coming season.

“Our greatest focus development-wise will probably be on defence,” Pierce said. “In the past, that has been one of our strength areas. Obviously having Shane Poulsen back is huge. He and Jake Clifford are going to take on a lot of leadership on the backend.”

Notable blueline recruits at camp will be 19-year-old Josh Teves, who joined the Centennials for the playoffs last season after a very successful year (10 goals, 14 assists, 24 points) with the Fernie Ghostriders of the KIJHL, and 18-year-old Tyrrell Buckley (8-23-31) from Penticton, a graduate of the Okanagan Hockey Academy’s elite U18 Varsity program.

Up front, the Cents have definitely recruited some firepower, including 18-year-old winger Michael Ederer from Lancaster, New York.

The explosive winger garnered 30 goals and 23 assists for 53 points while playing last year for the Buffalo Jr. Sabres in the Ontario Junior Hockey League.

The list of forwards also includes centre Nick Fidanza (21-27-48) from Kamloops who suited up for the Chase Heat of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League in 2013-14.

“We have some incoming players who have the potential to put up some big numbers,” Pierce said, “but until you get them playing within your structure and systems, you just never know how it’s all going to work out.

“You’re always a bit apprehensive about how it all comes together. We’re so big about who plays what role, you hope that you don’t have too much of one thing and not enough of the other.”

One thing Pierce is quite certain about is how quickly he wants to pare down the numbers at training camp.

“It’s a short camp,” Pierce said, “but with the reduced roster of only 40 players at the start, it’s nice. We won’t waste a lot of time with endless scrimmages to sort things out. We have a couple of practices to get everyone familiarized with each other, an intra-squad game, and then, bang, we’re into exhibition games — which is where you really find out what you have.”

The Cents play back-to-back games against the West Kelowna Warriors on Sunday, August 31 in West Kelowna and on Monday, September 1 at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena, starting at 7 p.m. both nights.

“The big focus for us is going to be those first two exhibition games,” Pierce said.

“We’ll put a lot of young guys in the line-up that we want to take a good look at in a game situation.”

The following weekend, the Centennials play home-and-away games against the Trail Smoke Eaters with Saturday’s game in Merritt at 7:30 p.m.

“Our goal is cut down to 28 to 30 players after the first two exhibition games, and then be down to our final roster number (22) following the two games with Trail,” Pierce said.

“Following that, we’ll have a full week to work with the group prior to a final tune-up against Penticton (on September 13). Then we’ll head off to the BCHL Showcase in Chilliwack.”

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