- Vees are 7-1-1-1 after a loss, outscoring their opposition 41-23 in those 10 games. They last lost back-to-back games December 20th & 21st. But before that, you have to go back to November 22nd & 23rd for the last time it happened. They’ve only last back-to-back games three times this season.
- Up until this season, the Vees had quite a bit of success against West Kelowna, now this year it seems the Centennials have replaced West-K in that category. The Vees have won four of the six games they’ve played against Merritt this season and have points in all six (4-0-1-1)/ They have won twice by scores of 4-1, one one-goal win (5-4) and have won by a lop-sided score of 6-2. Now, despite these score lines, the games in this season series have been very competitive and close. For the most part, the Vees have had key stretches where the dam bursts so to speak. Five to 10 minute segments or a period where they do all their damage.
- Scoring versus Merritt this season: Brad McClure (4-5-9), Brett Beauvais (3-5-8), Travis Blanleil (2-4-6), Ben Dalpe (1-4-5), Steen Cooper (2-2-4), Jack Ramsey (2-2-4), Cody DePourcq (2-1-3), Eric Benoit (0-3-3), Max Coatta (0-2-2), Chris Rygus (0-2-2), Matt Serratore (0-2-2), Cam Amantea (1-0-1), Paul Stoykewych (1-0-1), Riley Alferd (0-1-1), Alex Coulombe (0-1-1), Jarod Hilderman ( 0-1-1) and Patrick Sexton (0-1-1).
- Hunter Miska gets the start tonight as Olivier Mantha is out with the flu; Miska is starting both games this weekend. Miska is 13-4-2-3 with a 2.26 GAA and a .917 SV%. He’s 2-0-1-1 against Merritt, with a 2.09 GAA and a .932 SV%. Miska was brilliant in his last game against the Cents’, stopping 36 of 37 shots in a 1-1 tie on January 4th.
- Unfortunately this flu, which has run through the dressing room, comes during a tough stretch of games. Not saying there is any good time to get sick but this month could have been the least optimal. Cam Amantea was sick last Saturday, Riley Alferd Wednesday and now Mantha is the latest victim. Basically he’ll be resting today and tomorrow, doctor’s orders, and likely be good to come early next week.
- To fill the void left by Mantha, the Vees have called up 16-year-old Brendan Barry from the Okanagan Rockets. He’ll wear number 1 in his back-up role to Miska tonight. Barry is 8-1-0 thus far with the Rockets.
- Staying with the line-up, Chris Rygus is serving his second game of a two-game suspension he was handed this week. Filling in again for Rygus on the blue-line will be Wyatt Trumbley (94). Trumbley plays for the Osoyoos Coyotes of the KIJHL and didn’t look out-of-place on Wednesday against West Kelowna; this is his third game with the Vees this season.
- Max Coatta is still out, as he recovers from an upper-body injury sustained in Vernon back on January 10th. Riley Alferd comes back in after being side-lined with the flu on Wednesday.
- The coaching staff wants the Vees to pull up their socks a bit and be harder to play against tonight. What does that mean? Well from a player perspective, instead of looking to the guy beside you to see if he’ll lead the way, each player tonight has to pull his own weight. Not saying the Vees took shifts off on Wednesday but they need to make sure the Cents’ feel their presence tonight. They need be better on the fore-check, in the battles for loose pucks and not give the Cents’ a free pass anywhere on the ice.
- On Wednesday the Vees had maybe a handful of shifts in the offensive zone that were over 10 seconds. They usually are a team that gets the puck below the circles and set up shop. Wednesday they struggled in sustaining any offensive zone time and that has to be corrected tonight. I need to use a bit of an asterisk when I say that, because the confines in Merritt challenge teams to keep the puck on their stick for any length of time. Tonight, they need get in low and operate from below the circles, as that seems to be where all the chances are generated from in the cozy confines of Nicola Valley Arena.
- Don’t pass up any shot opportunities. Not one. Any angle is a good scoring angle in Merritt; shoot, a slap-shot from centre ice can be scored as a Grade ‘A’ opportunity.
- The lines have been juggled ahead of tonight’s game, as the coaches tinker in hopes of fostering some chemistry. A line that we saw last week is reunited, as Brad McClure, Nic Pierog and Ben Dalpe are put back together. They were put together in the third period of Wednesday’s game and looked like they hadn’t missed a beat. Erik Benoit will center Steen Cooper and newcomer Shane McColgan. These three also saw some time together Wednesday, and Benoit and McColgan are a good pairing, as they were teammates in Saskatoon last season; familiarity can only do some good.
- The power-play. Lots of talk this week has centered around the Vees man-advantage. The power-play is just 1-22 in the last five games, and is on a 1-29 dry spell. Move the hand away from the panic button for just a moment. Keep in mind, that three of the five Vees that were on the first unit PP Wednesday, had been with the team for less than a week. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will the chemistry on the Vees man-advantage; it will take some time. The Vees got a practice in yesterday and the main focus was working on the two power-play units. New faces and a new wrinkle in how they break out, equals some short-term growing pains. I expect we will see a more comfortable looking power-play tonight compared to the one Wednesday.
- Penalty-Kill? Well, it can just keep on doing what its been doing. Wednesday was the first power-play goal the Vees coughed up in 2014 (snapping a 15-15 run) and the first on home ice since November 30th. The PK is still first in the BCHL, humming along an impressive 87 percent.
- The Vees starts have fallen under the microscope recently, as they’ve surrendered the opening goal in three straight and have trailed after the first period in each of those three games. Granted, they won two of those three but they are likely growing tired of trailing early in games. I’ve like how they played in two of their last three first periods but they’ll need to have more energy early than they did Wednesday.
- One big key? Don’t fall behind heading into the third. The Vees are 1-7-1-1 when trailing after two periods but a combined 26-3-1-2 when ahead or tied after two. Like most teams, the Vees are that much better when they don’t have to play catch up. The Vees seem to find that extra gear in the second / third periods that helps them pull away.
- Merritt has had some mixed results in January, sporting a 2-3-1 record in six games but are coming off a big 4-1 win over Vernon Tuesday.
- That game was a tight-checking affair in a scoreless first period, before Adam Tracey, Jeff Wight and Diego Cuglietta scored in the second; home team up three going into the third. The Cents’ found an extra gear in that middle frame and pulled away from the Vipers; something we see the Vees do a lot of against their opposition.
- Speaking of mixed results, the Cents’ split their Island Division road trip last weekend, pulling off a 4-3 come from behind win in Nanaimo Friday, before losing 4-2 in Victoria Saturday. They have a bit of an odd schedule in January, as they don’t play at all this weekend after tonight, as they’re back in action next Friday in Coquitlam; but it gets tough from there on out.
- Four of the Cents’ final five games of the month are within the division, four of five are at home however but three of the four teams they play are directly above them in the standings (tonight, Vernon next Saturday and West Kelowna on the 31st). These next two weeks can say a lot about where they might find themselves in the standings come early March.
- Something that I’ve noticed that may be the culprit as to why this team is not higher in the standings, is their record against the Interior Division. Coming into tonight, the Cents’ are just 10-11-1-1 within their own division. We all know how tight it is this year and how important the “four-pointers” are. 10 of their final 15 games are within the Interior and their final two games of the regular season are against Salmon Arm, the team they’re tied with for the fourth and final playoff spot.
- Scott Patterson’s lead in the team scoring race (20-16-36) is shrinking; as Jeff Wight is just a point back (17-18-35) entering tonight’s action. Also in the rear-view mirror is Diego Cuglietta, who has 10 goals and 34 points. However, neither of those three lead the team in scoring against the Vees, as its defenseman Shane Poulsen at the front of the pack, with two goals and four points in five games.
- The Cents’ finalized their goaltending situation last week, as Devin Kero is “the guy” after Russell Sanderson was released and signed on with the Campbell River Storm of the VIJHL. Tough to let a local guy like Sanderson go but can’t ignore the type of numbers Devin Kero has put together this season. Kero, who may be on the smaller side, makes up for his lack of size with his athleticism. Kero is 14-12-3-1 on the year but does own a 2.38 GAA and a .920 save-percentage; good numbers, especially for a team that doesn’t score a whole lot. Among goalies who’ve played a minimum of 15 games, Kero’s save-percentage is fourth-best in the BCHL, just ahead of the Vees Hunter Miska; we shouldn’t expect a lot of goals tonight.
- Cents’ scoring versus Penticton: Shane Poulsen (2-2-4), Diego Cuglietta (1-3-4), Sebastien Pare (0-4-4), Sam Johnson (1-2-3), James Neil (1-2-3), Scott Patterson (2-0-2), Adam Tracey (2-0-2), Jeff Wight (1-1-2), Devin Oakes (0-2-2), Tyler Martin (1-0-1), Daniel Nachbaur (1-0-1), Jake Clifford (0-1-1), Gavin Gould (0-1-1), Malik Kaila (0-1-1), Payton Schaefer (0-1-1) and Wayland Williams (0-1-1).