Vees Record: 23-9-0-3 49 pts (1st Interior Division)
Last 10: 7-2-0-1
Last Game: 4-2 W vs. Warriors (Dec 29th)
Centennials Record: 19-11-1-1 40 pts (2nd Interior Division)
Last 10: 7-3-0-0
Last Game: 5-0 W vs. Vipers (Dec 22nd)
Vees vs. Centennials: GP 3 2-1-0 GF: 12 GA: 6
Home: 1-1-0 GF: 9 GA: 4
Road: 1-0-0 GF: 3 GA: 2
Power-Play vs. Centennials
3-15 / Road: 1-6 (1 SHGA)
Penalty-Kill vs. Cenntenials
12-13 / Road: 2-2
November 9th: 3-2 Cents’
November 14th: 3-2 Vees
December 7th 7-1 Vees
January 4th @ Nicola Valley Arena (7:30pm)
February 8th @ SOEC (7pm)
February 16th @ Nicola Valley Arena (7:30pm)
February 22nd @ SOEC (7pm)
(’11-12 Season Series: Vees 7-0-0-1 vs. Merritt / GF 37 GA 14)
The Setup: The Vees and Cents’ meet for the fourth time this season, and the first since December 7th, when the Vees thumped Merritt 7-1. The Vees have won the last two meeting in the season series, since the Cents’ took the first encounter 3-2 back on November 9th.
The Vees have gone 4-2-0 since their last game against Merritt, winning most recently on December 29th in West Kelowna. The Cents’ have been playing some good hockey as well, winners of five of their last six, going 5-2-0 in the month of December and have won two-in-a-row.
Tonight is the first game of 2013 for both teams, the Cents’ haven’t played since December 22nd, a total of 13 days between games; might have to shake out the rust. The Vees have six of their next seven games on the road, as they move out of the SOEC for the Continental Cup of Curling.
Vees Beat: The Vees will be without five regulars tonight as Jedd Soleway (Suspension), Rob Mann (inj), Travis Blanleil (inj), Cody DePourcq (inj) and Ryan Gropp (U-17) will be sitting out. The Vees will have three AP’s in the line-up in Fraser Sutherland (Port Moody Black Panthers), Josh Blanchard (OK Rockets) and Graham Millar (OK Rockets). Blanchard had quite the debut a few weeks ago when he played for the Vees against Salmon Arm on December 12th; arguably one of the Vees best on that night. The Vees will only have nine regulars upfront, but a full complement on the blue-line which is crucial for a game against the Cents’.
Two that will play tonight will be counted on heavily to provide the offense. Sam Mellor and Wade Murphy have been the two hottest Vees in recent weeks. Mellor has a league best 10 game point streak heading into Friday’s action; seven goals and 15 points. Murphy has started to heat up once again, putting together a seven game point streak, racking up 11 points during the stretch.
The newest Vee will be playing his second game on the blue-line, as Thomas Nitsche will be paired with Troy Stecher to start. Nitchse made his debut on Saturday, and didn’t look out-of-place considering he had yet to practice or even have a game-day skate under his belt with his new team. Nitsche now has practiced for the last week with his new mates and will be leaned on quite a bit tonight alongside the Vees captain.
Keys for Tonight:
1) Compete: It’s the the thing that counts most if a team wants to take two points out of the tight confines of Nicola Valley Arena. If you’re not skating, hitting or doing everything possible to win the puck battles, you’re going to have a long night in Merritt. The Cents’ play an aggressive and physical game at home as they’ve patterned their game around their “cozy” confines. Merritt likes to drive pucks behind the net on zone entries and push three below the circles on any given fore-check. Games like tonight are about winning the battles along the walls and in the corners and not giving anything up to your opponent; not even an inch of ice. If you get Merritt an inch, they will take a mile.
2) Composure: This is something the Vees have done very well in the season series against Merritt, especially in Merritt. The Cents’ have the league’s best power-play (23.94%) and second best at home (28.28%). In two of the three games against Merritt, the Vees have taken three or less penalties. Coach’s usually say the golden number in a game is four or less and that’s what the Vees will be aiming for tonight. Composure is crucial, as these two teams simply don’t like each other and fireworks always seem to erupt. With that in mind, the Vees were guilty of eight penalties against in their last encounter but their excellent PK bailed them out; that was at home too. The Vees have the league worse road penalty-kill at 72.22 %, but it’s not from a large sample size, as they’re the third least penalized team on the road. However, the Vees can’t waste time trying to kill off penalty, after penalty, after penalty. That will kill a team playing with a short bench and that’s when things fall apart.
3) Transition: Arguably the Vees bread and butter is their potent transition game. The Vees are a team that thrives on turning the puck up ice quickly and forcing their transition into odd-man situations. This is emphasized more when playing the Cents’ a team that likes to be aggressive on the fore-check. Merritt isn’t shy about sending two, three forwards in on the attack and their defensemen are quite active from the point, pinching down often to engage along the walls. The Vees need to be smart with the puck in their own zone, especially with their breakouts. If the Vees can turn on the Cents’ quickly, get their defense turned, they’re going to have their fair share of chances the other way.
Vees Scoring vs. Centennials
Louie Nanne 4-1-5
Cody DePourcq 2-2-4
Sam Mellor 1-3-4
Troy Stecher 0-4-4
Brad McClure 1-1-2
Cam Amantea 0-2-2
James de Haas 0-2-2
Brock Balson 1-0-1
Sean Flanagan 0-1-1
Wade Murphy 0-1-1
Jedd Soleway 0-1-1
The Opposition: Merritt was heating up before the break,but with a 13 day layoff it will be interesting to see if they can pick up where they left off. Merritt won five of their last six heading into the break, which included a weekend sweep of Vernon on December 21st and 22nd; outscoring the Vipers 11-1 in the two games. Yep, 11-1.
The Cents’ won all three of their home games in December, picking up victories over Cowichan Valley, Salmon and most recently Vernon. In those three games the Cents’ outscored their three opponents 12-3; shutting out Vernon 5-0 on the 22nd. Merritt has the best home record in the Interior Division outside of Penticton, a record of 11-4-0-1. Their last home lost was at the hands of the Vees on November 14th, since then they gone undefeated in the last four contests at Nicola Valley Arena.
Regan Soquila and Derek Huisman continue to be the guys that “drive the bus” when talking about the Centennials offense. Both have 13 goals and Soquila leads the teams in scoring with 36 points; seven better than Huisman. However, their secondary scoring has been making some nose of late. Diego Cuglietta has four points, all assists, in his last four games, which is a welcome surprise from a player known more for his checking ability. Sean Maktaak, who usually plays alongside Soquila and Huisman, has heated up too, with three goals and six points in his last three.
The Cents’, on paper, are a team lead by a very dangerous first line, with the likes of Sebastien Pare and Maktaak taking turns playing alongside Soquila and Huisman. After their top three / four it’s almost the same type of player sprinkled through the line-up; hard-hitting, and aggressive. In saying that the Cents’ still have the ability to hurt you, both on the score-sheet and in the game from up and down lineup. The Vees can’t just focus on their top line but neutralizing it will go a long way in getting a win.
Tyler Steel has been his usual self in-goal and that’s been rock solid. Steel is their horse, playing in 27 of Merritt’s 32 games and picking up 17 wins from those 27 starts. His numbers are what you expect from a number one in the league, a tidy goals-against of 2.50 and a sound .915 save-percentage. Steel is big and athletic and it isn’t easy to get pucks past him. In saying that, he didn’t have a stellar outing last time out against the Vees, but will be highly motivated to rebound from that performance; I expect we will see a razor-sharp goaltender tonight.