Contributed by Jesse Adamson for BCHL communications
Tonight – Merritt Centennials (15-16-2-1) at Coquitlam Express (8-25-1-2)
7 p.m. at Poirier Sports and Leisure Centre in Coquitlam
Presented by the BCIHL
The two teams have only met once so far this season – Dec. 29 in Merritt. The game was delayed over two hours as Coquitlam was late arriving to the game due to snowy highway conditions. After a scoreless first period, Joshua Bruce, Joshua Wildauer and Colby Pederson scored three straight goals for the Express to put them up 3-0 midway through the second period. Pederson added a second goal, defenceman Troy Robillard chipped in with three assists and goaltender Clay Stevenson stopped 33 of 35 shots and was named the game’s first star in Coquitlam’s 5-2 victory.
Zach Zorn leads Merritt in points with 34 points (14-20-34) in 33 games. He’s followed closely by Henry Cleghorn who has 33 points (15-18-33) in 33 games and leads the team with 15 goals. Tyrell Buckley is tied for 13th in BCHL scoring among defencemen with 23 points (6-17-23) in 33 games. Centennials goalie Jacob Berger is 10th in the league with a .908 save percentage and is tied for second with two shutouts on the year while playing the sixth most minutes in the BCHL.
Coquitlam’s Eric Linell is tied for fourth in the league with 19 goals on the season. He also leads his team in points with 33 (19-14-33) in 36 games. Troy Robillard leads his team in points from the blueline with 17 (1-16-17) in 36 games. The team’s second-leading scorer and captain Alex Ambrosio is no longer with the Express as he has accepted an NCAA deal for this season at Lake Superior State.
What’s at Stake
Merritt has been slowly climbing the standings after a tough start to the season. They are now one game below .500 and sit in sixth place in the Interior Division with 33 points. They are four points ahead of the last-place Salmon Arm Silverbacks and five behind the fifth place West Kelowna Warriors with three games in hand on each team.
Coquitlam has also improved after a slow start to the year and a midseason coaching change. They remain in last place in the Mainland Division with 19 points, but are two points ahead of the Cowichan Valley Capitals in the overall standings with a game in hand and currently hold the final playoff spot.
Merritt Centennials head coach Joe Martin on his team’s 5-2 loss to Coquitlam on Dec. 29:
“They seem to be playing with a lot of confidence. Their goaltender played well against us. It was a game that we felt we had momentum at times, we just couldn’t find a way to score. They were getting timely goals…It’s tough when you feel like you should have a better fate, but it doesn’t work out your way. Tomorrow we get a chance to make sure it does.”
Martin on his team’s focus going into tonight’s game:
“Last time we played, we scored one power-play goal on five chances and they went two-for-three, so our special teams have to be better…At times we held the momentum but in situations here and there we weren’t sharp enough, so it’s something we need to pay attention to (tonight).”
Martin on his team’s improvement from earlier in the season:
“We’ve got a lot of new faces this year, so it’s taken some time to have them playing on a more consistent basis. It would come and go earlier in the year and later on it’s been closer to every night. We’ve got a really busy month, this month of January so it’s a good test for us to continue that play.”
Martin on his recent experience winning gold as an assistant coach for Team Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge:
“It was great. It’s always nice to win for sure, but it’s even more important when you win with good people. Those kids that we coached, they’re a lot of fun to be around. They never quit. I know we didn’t start off the tournament the way we wanted to, but those kids just kept getting better and had a lot of belief in what they were doing…They were an exceptional group and a lot of fun.”
Coquitlam Express head coach Jason Fortier on facing Merritt tonight:
“Merritt’s got a fast, flowing hockey team up front. They like to keep their feet moving, they forecheck with good speed and they’re very good with the puck possession game. For us, we have to stay very simple to what we’re trying to do and make sure that we have really hard puck pursuit on the backcheck and play tough and physical in front of our goaltender.”
Fortier on taking over as head coach of the Express midway through this season:
“It was new to me. I had an idea of what I wanted to do and I’ve been watching other teams around the Ontario league and I thought ‘if I was there this is what I would do’ and ‘if I was there I might want to do this differently.’ I’ve noticed some subtle changes, whether it’s been habits day-to-day or ideology of what we will accept and what we won’t accept. I’ve been pleased with what I’ve seen so far.”
Fortier on team captain and second-leading scorer Alex Ambrosio recently leaving the team to play for Lake Superior State in the NCAA:
“We were trying to help Alex get a scholarship. It just so happened that I’ve sent many players to this school before. They reached out saying that they might be interested in him, but would I be willing to let him leave in January. As a hockey coach and a guy coming into a new team, I really didn’t want to let him leave, but it’s best for the kid and that’s what our organization wants to focus on. We did what’s best for the player…I think, for him and his family, they’re very appreciative of what we’ve done for him.
“I think all our players are happy…I know it might have been frustrating to see a good player leave and he’s a heart and soul type player, we’re not going to replace him at this stage of the year. I spoke to every player and asked, if this was them, would anybody decline just to stay here, or would everyone go and there wasn’t a guy that said they’d turn it down.”
ABOUT THE BCIHL
The British Columbia Intercollegiate Hockey League was created with the purpose of offering a venue for competitive, high-calibre hockey that’s close to home for players beyond their junior careers. The league was launched in 2006 and now includes six member teams: Eastern Washington University, Selkirk College, Simon Fraser University, Trinity Western University, the University of Victoria and Vancouver Island University. This season, 25 graduates with over 2750 games of BCHL experience are pursuing their academic and athletic goals in the BCIHL. To learn more about the BCIHL and playing opportunities for BCHL grads, visit BCIHL.ca.