Road Record: 15-6-0-2
Vees vs. Cents: 2-3-0
(Last Meeting: 1-0 Cents Feb 8th @SOEC)
Vees vs. Interior: 20-7-0-1
Last Game: 2-1 win vs. Salmon Arm
Last 10: 9-1-0-0
Home Record: 15-6-1-1
Cents vs. Interior: 22-6-1-2
Last Game: 4-3 OT win vs. Vernon
Last 10: 7-1-1-1
(season series: 3-2 Cents/ 3-2 Vees/ 7-1 Vees/ 4-2 Cents/ 1-0 Cents)
Vees power-play vs. Merritt: 4-17
Vees penalty-kill vs. Merritt: 13-14
Vees Scoring vs. Merritt:
Troy Stecher 0-6-6 Louie Nanne 1-4-5
Cody DePourcq 2-2-4 Brad McClure 2-2-4
Sam Mellor 1-3-4 Brock Balson 2-0-2
Cam Amantea 0-2-2 James de Haas 0-2-2
Sean Flanagan 0-1-1 Wade Murphy 0-1-1
Mike Rebry 0-1-1 Jedd Soleway 0-1-1
Seven days removed from being shutout for the first time in over two seasons, the Vees meetup with the Merritt Centennials once again, this time the scene shifts to Nicola Valley Arena. Last Friday the Cents blanked the Vees 1-0 at the SOEC and in front of their largest regular season crowd in quite some time. Dane Birks scored the only goal in the second period on a slap-shot from just outside of the right-circle.
The last time the Vees were shutout was back on February 4th, 2011, when the Trail Smoke Eaters posted a 6-0 win at the SOEC. How long ago is that? Well both Sam Mellor and now alum Travis St. Denis were playing for the Smokies.
The Cents are the hottest team in the BCHL outside of the Vees, as they’ve won four in a row and are starting to inch closer to the Vees for top spot in the division. Merritt posted a 4-3 overtime win last night over the Vernon Vipers on home-ice. Sebastien Pare was the OT hero, scoring the game-winner three and a half minutes into the four-on-four period.
This is the sixth of seven regular season meetings between these two bitter rivals, as they concluded their seven-game set next weekend, February 22nd, at the SOEC. When the dust settles, these two will have played the final three games of their season series in just 14 days. If that doesn’t stir the pot and get the juices flowing, I don’t know what will.
The Vees have posted back-to-back wins and no other team sports a better record (9-1-0-0) in their last 10 games. Last night it was a bit of grind, as the Silverbacks pushed the Vees right to the final horn; literally.
Friday night was similar to the Friday prior when the Vees tangled with the Centennials. Last night was a taste of “playoff-like” hockey once again, as it was a possible first round preview. Neither side gave up much in the way of scoring chances and both teams held each other under 30 shots.
I did like the Vees defensively, as their back-end was pretty tidy, with little to no breakdowns and when there was an opening, Chad Katunar was there to close the door. Last night the Vees did a bang-up job in protecting the front of their net. Rarely did I see a Silverback penetrate “the house” and get in a prime scoring area. Yes, there was the occasional scramble in front of the net but nothing really threatening. If the Vees didn’t box-out right away, they recovered quickly and clamped down on any secondary chances.
Another element their success defensively is the continuing ability to block or deflect away a large quantity of shots inside their end. Salmon Arm must have been frustrated somewhat, if they did get in a prime shooting lane, the Vees either blocked it or got a stick in the way. Troy Stecher had a memorable diving full-body block in the third when Blake Box thought he was all alone atop of the circles for a grade-A opportunity. Commitment to team defense is going to help you win games when they matter and that’s in the post-season.
Coming back around to this season series, the Vees need to have a better push right from the opening face-off. The one good thing about playing in Merritt, it forces you to get engaged quickly because everything happens at a higher rate of speed with the small confines of the Nicola Valley Arena. When these two teams last met, the Vees really had trouble establishing any offensive zone presence. There zone entries were sloppy and they lost far too many battles along the walls. They did get better in the third period but time simply ran out on the momentum they were generating.
Tonight the Vees need to be “hard” on every play, no softies allowed when you’re playing in Merritt. The Cents have mastered the home-ice bounces and really know how to pressure and hem-in the opposition. Transitions are crucial tonight, as that’s how the game is won and lost in Merritt. The small ice means things happen quickly and sometimes abruptly. The Vees need to be on their toes and execute quick transitions from defense to offense and vice-versa. Odd-man rushes do tend to happen more frequently in Merritt and the Vees will have to be on the ball when it comes to back-checking through the neutral zone. Basically, the Vees will have to be ready and willing to get after loose pucks, get the puck out quickly and get up ice in a hurry.
Another thing tonight is the Vees have to realize no shot is a bad one in this rink. The offensive zone is cramped and that means there is really no bad-angle to let a shot go from. The blue-line feels like you’re at the top of the circles in any other rink and lots can happen by feeding pucks from out of the corners. The Vees have had 24, 29 and 23 shots on goal in the last three games; they haven’t out-shot an opponent since February 2nd. That averages out to 25 shots in their last three. Now, there are a few factors at play, one being teams are doing a better job of blocking shots, and two, teams are just becoming better at clamping down and sealing off shooting lanes; everyone starts to tighten up this time of year. But the Vees have some horses up front and guys with heavy shots (Sam Mellor, Wade Murphy, Louie Nanne and Brad McClure). The Vees need to make a conscious effort throw as much rubber as they can towards the goal. Simplifying their offensive game is a key in a smaller rink. Get pucks to the net and get traffic there too.
The Cents are playing some of their best hockey of late, as they’ve rattled off four straight wins and are undefeated in their last five games. Big factor to their success is their play away from the puck. In their last five games, the Cents have only surrendered seven goals; an average of 1.4 goals-against. They posted back-to-back shutouts over the Vees and Langley Rivermen last weekend and only once have had an opponent score more than three goals this month.
It’s also been an emotional couple of weeks for the team, as both Sebastien Pare and Tyler Steel have had to deal with personal matters that no one, especially kids, should have to go through. Credit to this team for pulling together and really channeling that emotion into some of their best played hockey. Russell Sanderson had quite the two game relief appearance for Steel, as he made 32 saves in a shutout over Langley and picked up the 4-2 win in Salmon Arm on Wednesday. Sanderson posted a 2-0 record, with a .967 save-percentage.Tyler Steel returned to the net on Friday and stopped 26 of 29 Vipers shots to pick up the win; Steel will likely be in net tonight.
Sebastien Pare has been riding an emotional high, since returning to the team after a leave of absence, Pare has scored in three straight games, including last night’s dramatic overtime winner. He has a goal and an assist in each of his last three games and now has 15 goals and 40 points in 45 games. Diego Cuglietta, who’s developed into a very good two-way forward, is feeling it as well, he’s got a goal and four points in the last two games. Derek Huisman is starting to heat up too; the sniper has four points in a two run. Basically the Cents have been getting scoring from up and down the line-up and that’s going to be key going forward into the playoffs.
The Cents power-play has been dangerous all season and the Vees can’t repeat last night’s sequence in the second period. The Cents sit fifth overall with a power-play operating at just under 21 percent. There even better at home, sitting fourth, their man-advantage functioning at 23.66%. Simply put, if you get into penalty trouble they will make you pay.