Round two between the Vees and the Cents’ tonight but the scene shifts to the Nicola Valley Arena in Merritt. This is the Vees first of three visits to NVA this season, as they have one more home game against Merritt in the New Year (January 5th).
The Vees scored a 4-1 win on Wednesday against the Cents’, thanks to a four-goal second period. Down 1-0 going into the middle frame, the Vees scored four unanswered, three in four minutes and twenty seconds, kicked-off by Paul Stoykewych three and a half minutes in. The delay to clean up after the Teddy Bear Toss seemed to affect the Cents’ as they never did find their footing until it was too late.
In that second period the Vees did kill-off a five-minute Merritt power-play, after Travis Blanleil was kicked-out for a blow to the head penalty. At the time, the game was still within reach for the Cents’, as they were only down 3-1 and had five continuous minutes of power-play time. The Vees killed it off, on the strength of good goaltending from Olivier Mantha and some stingy defense from a whole host of players. Soon after that power-play expired, the Vees scored, with just nine seconds left in the period, when Brett Beauvais’ shot found its way through Russell Sanderson; back-breaker.
Now it’s a chance for Merritt to flex their muscle at home, where they have stringed together a very respectable 8-4-2-1 record. The Vees are 11-2-0-2 at home and will be looking to improve on their 7-5-1-1 road record. The Vees play away from the SOEC has been steadily improving, as they’ve won two of their last three road games and were 4-1-0-2 on the road in the month of November.
This is the fourth of seven meetings with Merritt, with the next encounter again at the NVA on January 3rd. The Vees have the edge in the season series, sporting a 2-0-0-1 record have outscored the Cents’ 10-5 in the three games.
- Worth noting, the Vees are 9-3-0-1 against their own division heading into tonight’s encounter with the Cents’. That’s 19 out of a possible 26 points against the Interior Division. You hear a lot about “four-point” games and how that can create separation in the standings. So far the Vees have been in control of their own fate so to speak. If you start skidding, then you’re scoreboard watching and looking for help; dicey business.
- In three games against the Cents’ the Vees have managed to pick up at least a point in each game. Five out of a possible six points against the team directly below them in the standings. Don’t overlook that stat either, might turn out to be important come late February.
- Their looking to win three in a row for the first time since October 12th. The Vees won three games in a row from October 5th to 12th and since then, have won back-to-back games just once. They’ve battle with some inconsistency but their schedule hasn’t been all that easy either. They’ve played quite a few good teams and the parity in the BCHL seems to be at a all-time high. Schedule doesn’t get much easier, with home dates against Surrey tomorrow and Trail on Wednesday. That before a three-game Mainland / Island Division road swing next weekend. Non-divisional points are important but divisional points are a must. Time to make hay over the next six days.
- Travis Blanleil’s two-game suspension has been upheld by the league office, so he won’t be eligible to return until Wednesday. The Vees were already short a forward in Cam Amantea who’s nursing an upper-body injury. With just 10 regular forwards, the Vees have called-up AP Mitch Newsome from the BCMML’s Valley West Hawks. The 16 year-old has 11 goals and 24 points in 20 games for Valley West. He’ll wear number eight and start on a line with Riley Alferd and Jack Ramsey.
- The Vees will dress seven defense on the back-end with the roster flexibility and I wouldn’t be surprised if we might see a defenseman take the odd shift upfront. Jarod Hilderman did take some reps at the forward spot this week in practice and might mix in a shift or two up front. Hey, he’s got great size, skates very well and has good hands. In a barn like Merritt’s he’s not going to be asked to do a whole lot. If he goes upfront, it’s all about keeping things simple; simple is effective.
- All signs point to Hunter Miska getting the call between the pipes tonight. He’s 1-0-0-1 against Merritt this season, with a .926 save-percentage and a 1.87 goals-against average. Olivier Mantha was great on Wednesday and Miska will be eager to get back in-goal. I’m sure he’s been briefed on the tight confines and the challenges of trying to play the puck. For goaltenders playing in Merritt, you have to be ready for a shot as soon as the Cents’ cross center ice; no angle is a bad angle in Merritt.
- The Penticton Herald wrote today that Mantha will get the start tomorrow against the Eagles at the SOEC. I’ll try to get that confirmed tonight at the rink with coach but it would make sense. He deserves another start after Wednesday’s performance, as he looked calm and comfortable.
- I’ve written about the Vees need to get scoring outside of their top players and they’ve been getting just that lately. Eight players have accounted for the teams last 13 goals, as the offensive output in the last two game has been a group effort. Just look at Jack Ramsey, who now has two goals and four points in his last two games. He’s put together back-to-back two point games and seems to be a more confident player. It’s not just him, as the Vees have gotten notable contributions from Riley Alferd, Brendan Lamont, Anthony Conti and so on. Guys who aren’t penciled in the top 4-6 necessarily, and that’s no slight, but guys who’ve really relished roles as key secondary contributors.
- The start will be keyed on tonight after Wednesday’s hiccup and the fact Merritt might be a bit grumpy after the loss. Merritt will be coming hard at the Vees, especially at home in their cozy digs. The Vees starts have been somewhat spotty lately, as they’ve conceded the first goal in four of their last six games. They need to get their feet moving right from the opening face-off and establish their transition game; that’s a bulk of the game focus in Merritt. Transitions.
- Winless in four and have just one win in their last five games coming into tonight’s action. They haven’t won a divisional game since October 26th against Vernon, going 0-3-0-1 since.
- Scoring has been at forefront when looking at their recent struggles, as they’ve only scored three goals in their last four games. They haven’t scored more than one goal in a game since their 5-2 win over the Surrey Eagles on November 22nd.
- It seems like the only guy scoring right now for the Cents’ is Jeff Wight, who’s scored five goals in as many games. He’s scored the only Merritt goal in their last three games, all losses. In the Cents’ last five games, Wight has scored five of the teams eight goals.
- Who gets the call in net tonight? Russell Sanderson was pulled in his first start since November 2nd on Wednesday night. He was tagged for four goals on 20 shots. AP Nathan Alalouf came in and played the third period and didn’t look out-of-place. Devin Kero was injured in the Powell River game last Saturday, so I don’t know what’s his status for tonight; find out when we get to the rink.
- Wight may have it going but no one else really does for the Cents’ right now. James Neil was heating up before he went down with an injury last week. Others have been in a bit of a funk. Top point-getter Scotty Patterson hasn’t scored in four games, same too for Diego Cuglietta and Sebastien Pare’s goal drought has hit 10 games. Those three plus Wight make up most of the scoring for the Cents’ and this group will need to find a way to get on the scoresheet to get this team back in the win column.
On the Broadcast: Both coaches join me in the pre-game show which gets underway at 7:10 pm on EZ Rock. Jack Ramsey is my second intermission guest, as he talks about his offensive output of late and how confidence plays a key role in his improved play.