|The Centennials and the Spruce Kings will renew|
acquaintances on Friday in Merritt
In case you are wondering the same thing, the Merritt Centennials are a team playing in the British Columbia Hockey League. They finished second in the Interior Division and now the Spruce Kings will meet the Centennials in a best of seven divisional semi-final series. It's just been so long ago since the two teams have played a game against each other ... 32 games ago and over three months ago to be exact.
Prince George and Merritt met seven times with all those meetings taking place in the first half of the BCHL 60 game regular season. Now they are ready to meet up to seven times in nine days if the Interior Division semi-final best of seven series goes the distance. The first round playoff matchup gets underway in Merritt starting on Friday night for game one and Saturday night for game two. The series will then shift to Prince George for games three and four on Monday and Tuesday night. If necessary the next three games will be played on consecutive nights beginning on Thursday in Merritt, Friday in Prince George and Saturday in Merritt.
Over the course of the last three months the two teams have been at times neck-and-neck in the Interior Division standings competing against each other for home ice advantage. The Centennials finished with a record of 34 wins, 18 losses, 2 ties and 6 overtime losses to garner 76 points while the Spruce Kings finished with 72 points (33-21-2-4). In head-to-head meetings this season, the Centennials did finish with a record of 5 wins, 1 loss and an overtime loss against the Spruce Kings and their record of 2 wins, 4 losses and an overtime loss.
Five of the games these two played against each other were decided by a single goal while the other two were three goal victories, one for each team. The goal differential between the two was just three goals (27-24) in favour of the Merritt Centennials. So really the regular season record isn't a strong indicator of what anyone can expect in the post season series; especially when you consider that the Spruce Kings made some player changes to their roster on December 1st and January 10th.
Ty Swabb and Michael Betz were two player acquisitions made just in time for the two to play one game against their Interior Division rival. While Jarryd Ten Vaanholt has not faced the Centennials this season at all, there are three other players that have never played against them - Latrell Charleson, Patrick Chore and Zack Rassell. Conversely, the Merritt Centennials only have one new player that didn't suit up for them in the seven games, Carter Shinkaruk who was acquired at the trade deadline from the Powell River Kings in exchange for future considerations.
So back to the original question, we know that the Merritt Centennials are essentially the same team they were back on December 9th. On that day their leading scorer was Regan Soquila (pron: Sa_key_la) who had 9 goals and 24 assists. Chad Brears and Evan Stack were their leading goal scorers with 11 and 10 goals respectfully. As the season rolled along, not much changed; Soquila finished as the top Centennial (16 goals, 54 assists) followed by Stack (32 goals, 29 assists) and Brears (28 goals, 30 assists). It should be noted that those three caused the most grieve for the Spruce Kings accounting for four of the five game winning goals and 13 of the 27 goals against.
It should come as no surprise that the Spruce Kings top trio of Paul De Jersey, Jujhar Khaira and Michael Colantone accounted for more than half the goals scored on the Merritt Centennials. The Fitzgerald triplets also enjoyed success against the Cents accounting for six goals between them. Where things get interesting is when you consider the unknowns in the equation, that being those players added to the Spruce Kings roster that have given the team a lot more depth and can cause all kinds of problems for the other team's defenses as we saw this past weekend against the Penticton Vees.
Defensively the Merritt Centennials are no slouch and have the third stingiest goals against average in the league and second best in the Interior Division. The goaltending tandem of Tyler Steel and Lino Chimienti have a GAA of 2.85 after conceded 171 goals against, 14 fewer than Prince George's goals against. Aside from Michael Garteig of the Penticton Vees, this semi-final series features the top four goaltenders from the Interior Division when looking at both goals against and save percentage.
I have always like those playoff series that feature the teams in the middle of the standings facing each other and this one is shaping up to be a great series on paper, now for the teams to deliver on the ice. We will start to find out what these two teams are capable of beginning on Friday in Merritt. Puck drop is at 7:30pm and the game can be heard on the Prince George community radio station, 93.1 CFIS-FM and online from the radio station's website at www.cfisfm.com or from the BCHL Pay-Per-View website.