VEES: GP 18 13-3-0-2 CENTS’: GP 17 10-5-1-1
VEES HOME: 6-1-0-1 (SOEC: 5-1-0-1) CENTS’ AWAY: 4-2-1-0
Nov 9 @ SOEC
Nov 14 @ Nicola Valley Arena
Dec 7 @SOEC
Jan 4 @ Nicola Valley Arena
Feb 8 @ SOEC
Feb 16 @ Nicola Valley Arena
Feb 22 @SOEC
The Setup: The Vees and Centennials have both lost their last two games coming into tonight’s contest. The Vees dropped a 4-1 decision last Saturday against the Chilliwack Chiefs and the Cents’ were handed a 3-2 loss one night earlier by the Surrey Eagles.
Despite both teams dropping back-to-back games, this is still a showdown between the two top teams in the Interior Division. The Vees sit atop of the division with 13 wins and 28 points, the Centennials sitting 6 points back with 10 wins and 22 points but do have a game in hand on the Vees. This is the first of seven regular season meetings and the first since the Vees knocked out the Cents’ in five games in last year’s Interior Conference Final; game five was at the SOEC.
Tonight is the second of three games the Vees will be without Troy Stecher, James de Haas, Mike Rebry and Wade Murphy due to the WJAC. Add in the fact Dexter Dancs will be at the WJAC as he’s playing for Team West in the CJHL Prospects Game, and the Vees will be five regulars short.
For their part, the Cents will be missing rookie defenseman Dane Birks as he is also participating in the CJHL Prospects Games, and according to the Merritt Herald, defenseman Tyler Martin is doubtful with a groin injury.
The Vees Beat: Penticton has had their way with the Interior Division thus far, a perfect 9-0-0 against divisional opponents, outscoring those teams 39-20. It’s the Island Division that has given the Vees fits, as they’re 2-1-0-2 in five games against Islanders; let see if an old divisional foe gets the Vees out of their funk.
The Vees will be keying on their start tonight, as they don’t want a repeat performance from last Saturday when the Chiefs scored all of 11 seconds into the game. The Vees looked unsettled and the goal only made matters worse. Granted they did get back on even turns minutes later but Vees certainly don’t want to go down that road again.
The Vees will have some fire in their belly as losing doesn’t sit well with any team especially at home. That fire will be needed because the Cents’ are in the same boat having dropped their last two. Cents’ Head Coach Luke Pierce in the Merritt Herald ahead of tonight’s game “We need to be hungrier than they are to get back into the wins column.” That quote emphasizing the importance of being ready to compete and play hard-nosed hockey against the Cents’.
All eyes will be on Brock Balson as he makes his Vees debut tonight after coming over from Salmon Arm in a trade on Wednesday. Balson will play between Sam Mellor and Brad McClure on a new look line that will be counted on to provide some offense; the Vees have only scored three goals in their last two. Balson’s arrival will allows Mellor to focus more on being a shooter as Balson look to shoulder more of the play-making role.
With five regulars out for tonight the Vees will have three AP’s dressed. Evan Last will play again upfront along with 16 year-old Nick Rasovic, and Derek Hughes will be on the blue-line. Last played against the Chiefs on Saturday and will center a line with Cam Amantea and Rasovic. Last plays for the Osoyoos Coyotes where he leads his team in scoring with 27 points in 19 games. Nick Rasovic is just 16 and is currently with the Vancouver NE Chiefs of the BCMML and has some solid numbers too; 11 points in 13 games. Hughes plays for the Richmond Sockeyes of the PIJHL and will also play tomorrow in Chilliwack, when the Vees battle the Chiefs.
Tonight is another stiff test for the Vees, as the Cents’ are an older team with 11 returnees from last year’s squad; a team that set franchise records in wins and points. The Cents’ are known to be a stingy team defensively and this year is no different, as they sit third in the BCHL in goals-against; right behind Penticton and Coquitlam who are tied for first. The Vees will have to make the most of their chances as the Centennials don’t give away many freebies. Last Saturday the Vees were plagued by missed opportunities, especially a stretch of 10 minutes in the second period that really seemed to swing the game in the Chiefs direction.
What to Watch For:
- Who scores first? Both teams have lost two-in-a-row and are eager to back into the wins column. The Vees surrendered a goal 11 seconds into their last game which didn’t do them any favours. The Cents’ have scored the first goal in all but one of their last five games. Both teams thrive off of strong starts and this could be the difference between a win and a loss. The Vees need a good start period. They didn’t look all that comfortable off the start last Saturday, and a good start tonight would be a big confidence boost.
- “World” Class Goaltending: Chad Katunar and Tyler Steel are the likely starters tonight. Both are 19 and both were Team Canada West tryouts. Both were cuts and most likely due to the fact they’re 19 and TCW was looking to go younger in-goal. One could argue we will be seeing two of the top goaltenders in the BCHL tonight. When Steel played against the Vees in the playoffs last spring he was terrific and proved he is a legitimate number one. Katunar has had an impressive start to the season and show no signs of slowing down. It’s always a real treat watching two top goaltenders go head-to-head and both will be counted on to have big games tonight.
- Special-Teams: The Vees have gone through their fair share of struggles on the power-play in their first 18 games. As of today, the Vees power-play is ranked 14th out of 16 teams and was shutout last Saturday; mind you they are missing four key power-play personnel. The Centennials have a lethal power-play, operating at 30 percent and it’s just under five percentage-points ahead of the next closest team. On the flip side, the Cents’ have the fifth best penalty-kill, whereas the Vees sit 8th. Penticton needs to stay out of the box, or at least keep it at a minimum and find a way to get something out of their man-advantage. It will be interesting to see what kind of spark Brock Balson can bring to the power-play, as he is a skilled forward with size that could be a perfect net-front presence.
The Other Guys: The Centennials have picked up where they left off from last season. After setting franchise record for wins (34) and points (76) and advancing to the BCHL final-four, the Centennials are back near the top of the Interior Division.
It’s a big weekend for the Cents’ as they sit one point up on the West Kelowna Warriors for second heading into the weekend, with a game in hand on the Tribe. After tonight Merritt returns home tomorrow to face the Trail Smoke Eaters. Tonight starts a key stretch for the Cents’ as they will play four games over the next seven days, all four against divisional opponents; three games against two teams directly above and below them in the standings. The Cents’ burn their game in hand on West Kelowna when they host the Vees Wednesday, before making a trip to West Kelowna next Friday. If the Cents’ want to make a run for the top of the table they will need to be picking up wins over the next week.
The Cents’ were led by trio the trio of Regan Soquila, Evan Stack and Chad Brears last year, and this year it’s really no different. Regan Soquila is back and is Mr. Playmaker for Merritt, as the Maple Ridge product has 19 points, 17 of which are assists, in 17 games. Right behind Soquila is newcomer Sebastien Pare, who was acquired from the Langley Rivermen for Jakob Reichert. Pare has five goals and 17 points in as many games. Pare has already surpassed his entire point total from last season with the Rivermen and doing so in 42 fewer games. Rounding out the trio is BCHL veteran and 20 year-old in Derek Huisman. The former Chief is coming off a 30 goal, 65 point season with Chilliwack. Huisman came over in a deal that saw the Cents’ ship the rights of Austin Plevy to Chilliwack. Huisman isn’t on the pace he was last year but he’s a legitimate scorer who has a nose for the net.
Dane Birks and Dylan Chanter do most of the heavy lifting on the back-end when it comes to offensive production; not bad for two 17 year-olds. Birks absence will be felt tonight, as he is was a catalyst to the Cents’ power-play success. Chanter sits fifth in team scoring with nine points and will see plenty of ice tonight against the Vees top forwards. The Vees will also have to watch out for shifty Richard Sabourin, who does have an offensive touch; he scored the overtime goal last season that handed the Vees their only regular-season loss at the SOEC.
It’s always fun when these two teams get together no matter what time of year. It’s safe to say these two are each other’s most heated rivals (maybe take out the ‘e’). There’s always seems to be drama (Riley-gate, the “high-stick,” and Interior Final) when the two get together. The Vees can expect another physical, hard-nosed team to come at them and will have to be ready for another chapter in the Vees-Cents rivalry.