Tonight – Merritt Centennials (21-11-1-1) at West Kelowna Warriors (20-14-0-1)
7 p.m. at Royal LePage Place in West Kelowna
Presented by the BCIHL
The Centennials have won all three games against the Warriors so far this year by a combined score of 21-11. Merritt won the first matchup 8-4 at home and took the second meeting 8-3, again at home. The most recent meeting came on Dec. 7 where the Centennials prevailed again 5-4.
Merritt captain Nicholas Wicks is riding a six-game point streak, with 11 points over that stretch. Centennials forward Bradley Cocca is third in league scoring with 45 points in 34 games. He also ranks second in the league in assists with 30. Nick Granowicz’ 20 goals is tops on the team and he is also tied for 12th in BCHL scoring with 38 points. Wicks and Mathieu Gosselin are also in the top-20 in league scoring with 36 points each, although Gosselin will miss this weekend’s games as he is playing for Team Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge in Bonnyville, Alta.
Warriors forward Lucas Cullen has points in five straight games, registering four goals and three assists. Chase Dubois is on a four-game streak with eight point over that stretch. West Kelowna’s leading scorers are Willie Reim and Mike Hardman who have 41 points each and are tied for seventh in league scoring. Hardman’s 24 goals this season tie him for the most in the BCHL. Wyatt Head is the Warriors leading scorer from the blueline with 25 points, tied for fifth among all BCHL dmen. West Kelowna goalie Connor Hopkins has the sixth-highest save percentage in the league at .911, while fellow netminder Brock Baier has a save percentage of .905.
What’s at Stake
Merritt is tied with the Wenatchee Wild for first place in the Interior Division with 44 points. They are one point up on the third-place Penticton Vees.
West Kelowna is three point back of the Centennials in the division with 41 points and sit in fourth place. They are six points clear of the fifth-place Salmon Arm Silverbacks.
From the Broadcast Booth
Merritt Centennials play-by-play broadcaster Jared Thomas on the team’s 3-0 record against the Warriors this year:
“I don’t think there’s any special formula when it comes to the team’s performance against the Warriors other than the will to win. This is an Interior Division rival that the Cents have to pick up points against. Both these teams have been offensive juggernauts this season and that’s definitely been on display in all three meetings so far. With a combined average of 10.6 goals per game between these two teams, you can bet that tonight will be no different.”
Thomas on Centennials forward Bradley Cocca returning to the team after not being selected to Team Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge (WJAC):
“He was caught in a numbers game with the coaching staff only allowed to select five ’99 born forwards. He has come back and it’s been back to work as usual. He’s a player that is a self-motivator, wants to be a difference maker on every shift and is a game changer whether he made the WJAC roster or not.”
Thomas on the Centennials playing without head coach Joe Martin who is currently an assistant coach with Canada West at the WJAC:
“Assistant coach Brandon Shaw is acting head coach in the absence of Joe. Having a year of BCHL experience under his belt, a scouting background and not being far removed from his playing days has earned him the respect of the dressing room. The team has gone 2-0 so far with Shaw behind the bench, but he and the team would say that there hasn’t been a change to the way they approach and prepare from game to game. Every point is precious in the tight battle at the top of the Interior Division standings and, no matter who’s behind the bench, the team wants to prove themselves every night.”
West Kelowna Warriors play-by-play broadcaster Chase Johnston on the last time these teams met:
“The Warriors played the Cents well in their last meeting at home, but fell short in the third period. It was tough to see since the Warriors were leading 4-3 after the second, but took their foot off the gas pedal in the final frame leading to the Cents spending the majority of the period in their zone. It took the Warriors over 15 minutes to record their first shot on goal in the third. The coaching staff uses the word ‘compete’ often and it was a lack of compete that allowed the Cents to come back.”
Johnston on the play of Warriors goal-scoring forward Mike Hardman:
“He can pick corners better than anyone in the league. He is smart with the puck and knows how to beat goaltenders. If you asked him, he gives all the credit to his teammates. Mike was always a prolific goal scorer in high school when he played for Winchenden out in New England. He has one of the best wrist shots and one timers in the BCHL and goaltenders are rarely prepared.”
Johnston on the Warriors goalie tandem of Connor Hopkins and Brock Baier:
“All credit for the Warriors success this season goes to the two-headed monster of Brock Baier and Connor Hopkins. I think the Warriors have been outshot the majority of their games this season and its Brock and Connor that have been relied upon late in games.”
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 five member teams: 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.