The Penticton Vees (24-9-1-3) ring in the New Year with another home-and-home set with the Merritt Centennials (19-14-2-1), starting tonight at Nicola Valley Arena in Merritt. Well, it’s a home-and-home for the Vees, as the don’t play again until Sunday when they host Merritt. The Cents’ make a pit stop in Salmon Arm tomorrow before making their way back to Penticton on Sunday afternoon.
Both teams have had nearly two weeks off, as the Vees last played on December 21st, a 4-0 setback in West Kelowna . The Centennials knocked-off the Salmon Arm Silverbacks 5-2 back on December 20th. The two last met in another home-and-home set in early December, the Vees won both, 4-1 on December 4th and 5-4 in Merritt two nights later.
The Vees have made a couple of roster moves ahead of tonight’s contest. The team announced Friday morning they’ve signed 20-year-old forward Erik Benoit. Benoit is a four-year veteran of the WHL and was most recently with the Moose Jaw Warriors. He’ll line-up between Cam Amantea and Max Coatta and will wear number 23. (Team Press Release on Benoit)
To make room for Benoit, the Vees sent forward Brendan Lamont (94) to the Coquitlam Express, in exchange for the playing rights of former Vee Mike Rebry. The 20-year-old is currently in his freshman season at Western Michigan University.
The Vees are 3-0-0-1 against the Centennials this season and are 11-5-0-1 against the Interior Division.
The Vees will dress 13 forwards for warm-up, so a final roster decision won’t come until after. Hunter Miska will start in net and is 12-3-1-3 on the year, with a 2.42 goals-against average and a .910 save-percentage. This is Miska’s fourth start against Merritt this season, as he sports a 2-0-0-1 record and .917 save-percentage.
Brett Beauvais leads all Vees in scoring against Merritt, with two goals and seven points. Closely behind Beauvais is Captain Brad McClure, who has two goals and six points. Travis Blanleil rounds out the top three, as he has a pair of goals and four points versus the Cents’ this season. McClure leads the Vees in scoring with 29 goals and 55 points; he also has points in four of his last five games.
Merritt has two straight and three of their last four games, including winning a pair of games against Salmon Arm before the Christmas Break. The Cents’ finished December with a 3-3 record and are fifth in the Interior Division, 15 points back of Penticton but only three back of fourth place Salmon Arm and they have a game in hand.
The Cents are 9-9-1-1 against the Interior Division this season; 3-3-1-1 at home. Overall, they sport a very respectable 10-5-2-1 record at the Nicola Valley Arena.
Scott Patterson leads the charge upfront for Merritt, with 18 goals and 34 points and closely following him is Diego Cuglietta (9-22-31), Jeff Wight (15-15-30) and Sebastian Pare (8-22-30). The Cents’ have lost Devin Oakes for the next month, as he was put on the 30-day injury reserve, after suffering a broken jaw back on December 15th.
Devin Kero has shoulder most of the responsibility in net for the Cents’ as he has played in 26 games and has started 10 of the last 12. Russell Sanderson has only played in eight games this season but faced the Vees twice last month, losing both starts on December 4th and 6th.