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BCHL Next Generation: Merritt Centennials

All summer we’ll be going team-by-team to profile new players coming in for the 2020-21 season with recaps of offseason commits and acquisitions. We will also have interviews and scouting reports from the coaches.

Next up is the Merritt Centennials.

The Merritt Centennials were the lone team on the outside looking in for the 2020 BCHL Playoffs as last year was very much a rebuilding season for the team.

After struggling out of the gate, the team decided to make a change behind the bench and promote then assistant Derek Sweet-Coulter to head coach and general manager of the team. Sweet-Coulter was still getting used to things in Merritt as he was only in his first year with the club, but he feels that after having coached the majority of last season and with an extended training camp this year, he’ll fully have his stamp on the team when it comes time to drop the puck for the coming season.

“The basis of our culture is playing for the organization first and making sure everyone is on board with that same message,” he said. “It’s making sure that you’re playing for the logo first. At the end of the day, I’m just looking for hard work from our players. They have to know that they need to earn everything they get.”

With his rookie season as a head coach behind him, Sweet-Coulter is now looking for his team to make that next step on the path back to contention for a BCHL championship. With the new players the team has brought in, he’s confident they’re well-prepared to take that step.

“We’re beyond excited to move forward with this young group that we have,” he said. “We have a lot of great, selfless men. A lot of time has been put in on the phones to make sure that we’ve recruited great people – not only good hockey players, but great people that want to be involved with our culture. We’re excited for them to battle for each other and for the history and pride of our organization.”

New recruits:

Alex Ochitwa (2002, F)

  • Hometown: Prince George, B.C.
  • Previous team: Cariboo Cougars (BC U18AAA)

Ochitwa led the Cougars in scoring in his second season with the team, totaling 54 points in 30 regular-season games. He also led the Major Midget league with 1.8 points per game and finished just one point back of the scoring leader despite playing nine less games.

Sweet Coulter’s scouting report:

“He impressed us so much on the phone, then in person on the Zoom calls. He’s a tremendous teammate and has tremendous character, which goes along well with his skill, speed and talent and the way he sees the game. We’re beyond excited to add him. We were able to build a positive relationship with him through the recruiting process and he decided he wanted to be a part of our culture and what we’re building in Merritt right now and that is great for our organization.”

Chris Fortems (2002, F)

  • Hometown: Delta, B.C.
  • Previous team: White Rock Whalers (PJHL)

Fortems led the Whalers in scoring in 2019-20, registering 48 points in 43 regular-season games. He also has some BCHL experience from playing two games as an affiliate for the Surrey Eagles in 2018-19.

Sweet-Coulter’s scouting report:

“Chris is a crafty player. He’s very skilled and he’s good in tight areas, which was one of the first things we noticed about him. He’s played against older guys as a 17-year-old in the PJHL, so it’s a good thing to see that a player can battle through that and play against the heavier, older players. We’re really excited to add Chris.”

Alek Erichuk (2001, D)

  • Hometown: Kamloops, B.C.
  • Previous team: Nelson Leafs (KIJHL)

The 19-year-old was his team’s second-highest scoring defenceman last season with Nelson, finishing his second junior campaign with 25 points in 29 games.

Sweet-Coulter’s scouting report:

“He’s a big, solid, physical defenceman with a long reach. He’ll be a great asset in our home rink on the small ice with his size and reach. He can also contribute on the offensive side. He’s got a really good shot. He’s another great person who wants to be part of our family in Merritt.”

Jacob Myers (2002, F)

  • Hometown: Port Moody, B.C.
  • Previous team: Vancouver NE Chiefs (BC U18AAA)

Also known as “Cubby” Myers, the 18-year-old had 11 goals and seven assists for 18 points in 38 games with the Chiefs last year.

Sweet-Coulter’s scouting report:

“Cubby is a physical player. He plays the game with a chip on his shoulder. The one thing we noticed about him going through the scouting and recruiting process is that he’s a player who’s not afraid to go through the middle of the ice and into those dirty areas to square guys up physically, especially in the neutral zone. He’s a player that’s going to play to the edge all the time and that’s what we want.”

Carson Preston (2001, F)

  • Hometown: Langley, B.C.
  • Previous team: Aldergrove Kodiaks (PJHL)

The 18-year-old split time between the Kodiaks and the Revelstoke Grizzlies of the KIJHL last season. He really took off offensively after the move to Aldergrove, putting up 25 points in 21 games.

Sweet-Coulter’s scouting report:

“He went through the preseason with us last year and had a really good camp, but unfortunately didn’t make the team. He continued to work and had a really good year in the PJHL. I just think he’s earned the opportunity. He’s an older guy who’s gone through the process now and has some experience. He’s a kid who has really worked for everything he’s gotten.”

Acquired via trade:

Grayson Valente (2000, D)

  • Hometown: Vancouver, B.C.
  • Previous team: Alberni Valley Bulldogs

Valente had been a mainstay on the Alberni blueline the last three years, having played in 138 regular-season games. He was an offensive contributor as well, with his best year coming in 2018-19 when he had 22 points in 57 games.

Sweet-Coulter’s scouting report:

“He has that experience we were looking for. He’s highly-skilled and he’s big with a long reach that’s going to be great for our rink. He’s a good person who wants to get better. He’s had some interest from the Division I schools down south and we’re hoping to provide that opportunity for him to get to the next level.”

Brandon Dent (2001, F)

  • Hometown: Prince George, B.C.
  • Previous team: Nanaimo Clippers

Listed at 5-foot-8, Dent is one of the smaller players in the BCHL, but he was productive last year in his second season in the league. He had 21 points in 28 games with the West Kelowna Warriors before being dealt to Nanaimo midseason.

Sweet-Coulter’s scouting report:

“He’s a highly-skilled player. He plays with an edge and with a lot of speed and emotion. He’s another guy we saw as someone who can come in and really provide energy and play that hard game.”

Josh Dias (2000, G)

  • Hometown: Surrey, B.C.
  • Previous team: Lloydminster Bobcats (AJHL)

Dias was one of the busier goalies in the AJHL last year, playing in 40 games for Lloydminster after being acquired by the team early in the season.

Sweet-Coulter’s scouting report:

“Josh is another one we spent a fair bit of time looking at to make sure he was going to be the right fit for our program. He’s a 20-year-old goaltender that has a ton of experience. He faced a lot of shots last year and held his team in there on most nights. He wanted to be in Merritt badly and, at the end of the day, that’s exactly what we want. We want kids that want to be here and he’s going to be a big part of our team moving forward.”

Walker Erickson (2002, F)

  • Hometown: Surrey, B.C.
  • Previous team: Trail Smoke Eaters

Erickson had seven goals and nine points in his rookie BCHL season last year with Trail.

Sweet-Coulter’s scouting report:

“He’s a big, strong, powerful kid. He’s going to be hard to play against, especially with the way he goes to the net with his speed. He played on a great team in Trail last year and he learned a lot. We’re going to expect big things from him – not just in the physical aspect. We believe he’s going to put up some points.”

Zack Dallazanna (2000, F)

  • Hometown: Port Moody, B.C.
  • Previous team: Nanaimo Clippers

The 20-year-old suited up for 94 regular-season games with Nanaimo over the past two seasons, chipping in with nine points.

Sweet-Coulter’s scouting report:

“He’s a genuine person who understands the game and what it’s all about by putting his teammates first. He works extremely hard. We’ve had him out skating at our camp already and you can see how much he’s improved over the summer, by getting faster and stronger. We’re really excited to add Zack to our dressing room.”

Photo credits: Jewels Photographs (Ochitwa), Jody Harris (Fortems), Justin Sulpico (Preston), Garrett James Photography (Valente, Dent, Erickson, Dallazanna)