Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Island Misadventures:

This was in today's Merritt Herald.

By Chris Koehn - Merritt Herald
Published: January 27, 2009 6:00 PM

The Centennials returned from a four game road trip to the Island last weekend. Here’s a roundup detailing the results.

Thursday: Cents VS Alberni Valley Bulldogs.

A successful powerplay goal and worthy effort from two call-up players couldn’t ignite the Cents as they lost to the hosting Alberni Valley Bulldogs, the first of four back-to-back Vancouver Island games for Merritt.

The Bulldogs took advantage of defensive breakdowns and kept their teeth firmly clamped on Merritt’s jugular until the halfway mark of the first period.

Finally, Merritt came alive and began shooting the puck, but to no avail as Alberni sniper Mitch McMillan walked in alone and wristed one past a handcuffed Harrison May.

Minutes later, Merritt malfunctioned on the powerplay and gave a two goal lead to Alberni Valley in a water-bottle mixup. May’s water bottle fell off the net and got caught up in Paul Forster’s skates.

A forechecking Chris Moulson seized the opportunity, snapping up the puck from a flustered Forster and jammed it in between May’s pads and the post while knocked to the ice himself.

The Cents opened up second period action with more defensive zone doldrums, finally sparked by Casey Fratkin who initiated, and won, a fight against larger opponent Sam Mitchell.

The Cents took the advantage on the powerplay and came together for a goal. Dustin Johnson hesitated, dragged his toe, sidestepped the defense and roofed one for his 15th of the season.

Goaltender May bailed his team out as the team struggled with nerves.

The Cents run into problems whenever they try to get a handle on their momentum.

Merritt settled down, and posted a 10-8 shot lead against the Bulldogs for the period. The lack of scoring finish was felt once again as the players left over from trades learn their new roles in the rebuilding effort.

Quality scoring chances failed to materialize. Alberni Valley put it away with a wicked snapshot from Brian Kang on a two-on-one.

Game notes: Evan Burgess, a 16-year-old call-up logged his first assist in his first Junior A game. His efforts netted him second star of the game. Sean Menton, another call-up, played with the Centennials for the third time in his career. Menton fit right in but had a little trouble finishing on a few excellent scoring opportunities.

Friday: Cents VS Nanaimo Clippers.

Kyle Nielsen started for the Centennials as they visited the Clippers the following night, collecting another loss during their dismal Island tour. Nanaimo beat Merritt by a score of 6-3.

The Cents seemed somewhat awakened by the fact that they had a chance to win Friday’s game against Alberni Valley, and stormed out of the dressing room with Dustin Johnson registering his second goal in as many nights to open the scoring.

Nanaimo weathered the brief squall though, and managed to squirt one past Nielsen alongside the post thanks to the efforts of Clipper Eric Filou.

Nanaimo then stepped up their game and quickly put a foot down on the struggling Merritt team.

In the second, Nanaimo rode their wave and tallied a goal from Colton Cyr on a sharp angle deflection long before the Centennials even registered a shot. The Cents kept working at it though, and tied it up on a play involving Codie Kightley, Casey Fratkin and Gary Rai. Then, Jordan Soquila found fellow Centennial Kevin Philp who deftly backhanded the pass for the go-ahead goal.

Once again, Merritt was unable to contain themselves and focus their excitement. They found themselves tied once again barely half a minute after gaining the lead. Merritt had no business even being this close to Nanaimo as the Clippers outshot the Centennials 14-3.

The Centennials faced their third period nemesis (lack of finish) again and allowed Nanaimo to run wild. Merritt was soon deflated and an empty netter let Nanaimo double-up for the win.

Game notes:

Dustin Johnson continued to lead his team in effort, and registered his second goal of the road trip.

Brad Bourke was out with a concussion. Merritt sorely missed their offensive blueliner.

Saturday: Cents VS Victoria Grizzlies.

Another fast start and a failure to rebound left the Merritt Centennials foundering as the Victoria Grizzlies skated to a 6-3 win on Saturday.

Within two minutes, the Cents had jumped ahead 1-0 thanks to the powerplay resolve of Gary Rai. Steve Tresierra and call-up Evan Burgess registered the helpers. Merritt managed to hold their own throughout the entire period against one of the better teams in the league. The promising start would soon be a memory.

This seemed to be the recurring theme for the Cents as they toured the Island. Getting a decent start out of the gates, each hosting team seemed to realize that they had to give the visiting bottom-feeder team some credit and quickly quash any chance of Merritt stealing a victory.

The Grizzlies snuffed out Merritt’s enthusiastic first period play, exploding with 22 shots and four unanswered goals. Justin Courtnall, son of Grizzlies head coach and former Vancouver Canuck Geoff Courtnall, capped off a hat trick. A dazed Harrison May was yanked.

Nielsen started the third, and immediately faced the firing squad. Victoria’s offensive surges kept Merritt on their heels for seven minutes before they could register a shot. Nielsen was able to hold on, however, and help his team make a game of it stopping all 14 shots during the final frame.

Unfortunately the Cents were again unable to make up for the goal deficit. Perhaps tired from the constant hammering at the Cents netminder, the Grizzlies allowed two goals. Victoria then clamped down for good, putting it out of reach with an empty-net goal.

Game notes:

Evan Burgess played again, once more collecting assists for a total of three points over three games. Despite being hammered at relentlessly by the Grizzlies, the Cents’ penalty kill went 2-6. A feat considering the offensive power of the Victoria squad.

Sunday: Cents VS Cowichan Valley Capitals.

The Cowichan Valley Capitals were the fourth team in four nights to host a muddled Merritt team, and like Victoria did last night, Cowichan Valley took them too lightly during the first period.

Merritt started with some jump, made their way to the second period with dignity and then were absolutely crushed as their upstart antics awoke a sleeping giant. The Cowichan Valley Capitals finished the night, and the Centennials’ Island road-trip, with an 8-4 victory.

First period action saw Kyle Nielsen get the start, and what a start it was. Phenomenal saves ended nearly all of the Capitals’ scoring chances, including a sprawling, falling backwards glove save robbing Cowichan Valley’s Mickey Spencer of a wide open goal.

Up-and-comer, Evan Burgess, once again registered an assist as his jump and enthusiasm continue to mean points for a goal-starved team.

After allowing Merritt to play in the first, Cowichan Valley turned up the heat, completely owning the powerplay and scoresheet for six unanswered goals. Nielsen was eventually yanked and May finished the final ten minutes of play. May fared no better and wound up just as rattled as Nielsen.

Nielsen was given the chance to take over netminding duties in the third as May was far too cold to continue. Stopping 12 of 13 shots, Nielsen once again returned to first period form. Surprisingly, Kevin Philp found himself in the role as best player on the ice for Merritt.

Philp registered his third goal in three nights. Adding two more assists to his tally, Philp proved himself invaluable and able to step it up like so many other players have had to do as a result of recent trades decimating the scoring line.

The Centennials came home licking their wounds, but hopefully they realized that they’re capable of top quality play against some of the best in the league. If the Cents manage to control their youthful exuberance and inexperience, and turn it into focused effort, then there may be a bright future for Cents’ fans.

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