The Merritt Centennials get set to officially begin their exhibition campaign with a tilt against a foe they will get to become all too familiar with in the coming months - the Prince George Spruce Kings.
The Cents are coming off a battle for intrasquad supremacy that saw the team line up against each other in a series of three games. Game one saw Team White prevail with goals from Josh Olson, Carson Preston, and Lucas Lundy over Team Red who got a lone goal from Brandon Dent. Game 2 was the most offensive of the bunch with Team Red bouncing back with a 6-3 win over Team White. Wyatt Marlow and Dylan Sydor tallied lone goals while Hunter Brown and Brandon Dent added a pair for Team Red. Team White jumped out to the early first period lead with goals from Jerzy Orchard, Zack Dallazanna, and Jacob Dewitt before seeing their lead evaporate in the final two frames. The Barnes Cup finale played host to a little bit of everything as the teams traded a pair of goals in the first period. Cubby Myers and Orchard bulged the twine for Team White while Dylan Sydor and Brandon Dent answered for Team Red. Goals from Ben Ward and Joe Davidson had the teams heading to an overtime shootout for all the bragging rights and it was Team Red scoring the lone goal of the shootout of the stick of Davidson and off the stellar play of Josh Dias in net to capture the inaugural Barnes Cup.
The team that Merritt will ice tonight will be far removed from the team that represented the town in the 2019-20 season as there are only six players returning from last years roster. Lead by local Talon Zakall on defense, fellow Merritonian Chase Cooke on the back end, and bolstered by Ben Ward, Jake McLean, Jerzy Orchard, and Wyatt Marlow up front the young core will be looking to make strides after a hard off-season training regimen.
The Centennials have been able to fill some holes through the trade market by acquiring forwards Zack Dallazanna, Brandon Dent, and Walker Erickson through future consideration deals. Veteran defender Grayson Valente was acquired for forward Josh Van Unen. The Cents solidified their goaltending by acquiring Josh Dias from the AJHL for forward Chase Nameth. More recently the team continued to tinker with their blue line by bringing in Liam Visram from the Nanaimo Clippers and Trevor Isaksson from the Trail Smoke Eaters.
The bulk of the hockey staff's work this offseason has been scouting and recruiting and it shows by some of the promising prospects they've brought aboard over the long summer. Forwards Alex Ochitwa, Cubby Myers, Carson Preston and defender Alek Erichuk were among some of the first committed to in the spring. Lucas Lundy and Joe Davidson were announced before a flood of new recruits came through as a result of the Centennials Fall Evaluation Camp. Jacob Dewitt and Liam Davidson have been added on defense, while Dylan Sydor, Josh Olson, Blake Astorino, Nolan Wall, Jack Henderson, Jacksen Hungle, Hunter Brown, and Mark Thurston have been added up front.
Of course tonight we can only be treated to 20 of those names on the lineup card, but it will be a solid test for veterans and newcomers alike as the Prince George Spruce Kings look to reload after a first round playoff exit last season. Sporting a veteran laden lineup that is only at 23 total players overall, the Spruce Kings are focused on continuing to build off of the growing pains of last season. They do have some once famliar faces on their team as both Christian Buono and Hunor Torzsok were acquired by PG over the off-season. One time Cent for a day Carter Woodside is now the veteran number 1 goaltender, and Prince George features a long list of returners.
Special teams will be an area that both teams look to improve. Prince George was respectable, but not near the top of the class in the BCHL last season, while the Centennials have no where to go but up after finishing last in both categories last year.
Powerplay: Penalty Kill:
PG - 17.2% (11th) PG - 78.3% (12th)
Cents - 12.9% (17th) Cents - 72.3% (17th)
The goaltending battle will see Josh Dias get his first taste of BCHL action while Colton Phillips-Watts will serve as the back up. Dias went 8-30-3 in 42 appearances last season in the AJHL while sporting a goals against of 3.77 and a .900SV%. Dias served on the Lloydminster Bobcats who were among the bottom teams in the AJHL last year.
The one time Cent affiliate Carter Woodside should get the start for the Spruce Kings in the games first official action. He went 5-11-1 in a half season in PG last year with a .900 SV% and a 3.08 GAA.
Head Coach Derek Sweet Coulter says that he's looking forward to seeing how his team handles this first test.
"It's going to be a game filled with a lot of emotion for some of younger guys, but in the end it could come down to who's legs last the longest."
The Cents hope to get a passing mark on the first test of the season.
Puck drop 7pm. Pre-game 6:45 on HockeyTV and Q101 with Jared Thomas and Michael Reeve.
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