BCHL Today: Merritt Centennials steal points in Wenatchee

BCHL Today is a (near) daily feature providing news and notes from around the junior A world.

Welcome to the Jan. 29, 2018 edition of BCHL Today, a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

This weekend produced a lot of interesting results, and the one that jumps off the page for me the most is Merritt (18-22-4-1) going into Wenatchee (30-13-3-1) for a back-to-back and coming away with three points.

Keep in mind that the Wild rarely lose at the Town Toyota Centre, where their record coming into the weekend was 18-3-1-0.

The Cents earned a single point from a 2-1 double-overtime loss Friday night, and came back to beat the Wild 3-2 on Saturday.

A ton of credit goes to Merritt’s goalies. Austin Rodin got the start Friday and turned aside 44 of 46 pucks directed his way. Jacob Berger got the nod Saturday and stole the win with a 52 save effort. Even though their team sits in seventh place in the Interior division, goaltending has not been the problem for the Cents, who have given up the fifth fewest goals in the league. The problem is they’ve scored the fifth fewest goals in the league as well.

Playing in a division packed that boasts the league’s top two attacks (Wenatchee and Trail) along with the explosive Penticton Vees and Vernon Vipers, and Merritt has trouble keeping up.

Before moving on, congrats to Centennials blueliner Tyrell Buckley, who played his 200th BCHL game Saturday. The Penticton native has played ‘em all with Merritt, collecting nine goals, 65 points and 177 penalty minutes along the way.

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The Penticton Vees had an interesting weekend.

The Vees (31-10-2-3) looked impressive dumping the Powell River Kings 4-1 Friday night at the Hap Parker Arena, with Jared Nash celebrating his 100th BCHL game. But their Vancouver Island road trip took a bit of a left turn from there. Penticton needed double overtime to get past the woeful Cowichan Capitals (9-31-5-2) on Saturday, sneaking by the Island division cellar dwellers on Taylor Ward’s game winning goal.

The toughest part of the Island trips is usually the last game, which is almost always a 2 p.m. start.

Having gone until around 10 p.m. the night before, the Vees were back on the ice 14 hours later to face the Victoria Grizzlies at the Q Centre, and they lost 6-3. Super rookie Alex Newhook celebrated his 17th birthday with a three-point night, scoring once and adding two helpers. T.J. Friedmann and Ethan Nother scored a pair for Victoria.

One other team has tagged Penticton for six goals this season. Wenatchee did it Dec. 29 in a 6-3 home-ice win.

Penticton remains a ridiculously stingy team, allowing just 2.26 goals per game. Only Vernon is more miserly, allowing 2.12, and the rest of the BCHL lags far, far, far behind those two teams.

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The Prince George Spruce Kings (25-15-4-4) had an impressive weekend, winning twice on the road to take over sole possession of top spot in the Mainland division.

Backup goalie Bradley Cooper pitched a 29 save shutout Saturday night as the Sprucies blanked the Coquitlam Express 3-0 at the Poirier Sports and Leisure Centre. PG put just 17 shots on the Coquitlam goal, with Ben Brar and Ben Poisson putting pucks past Express netminder Brock Hamm. The third goal, by Ethan De Jong, came into the final minute into an empty net.

The Spruce Kings moved on to Chilliwack Sunday, topping the Chiefs 5-1 at Prospera Centre.

This game was a one goal affair heading into the third period, before Michigan native Dustin Manz took over. The 18 year old recorded his first BCHL hat-trick.

He scored the third PG goal, shoveling in a backhand shot in a goal-mouth scramble. He scored on a breakaway, slipping a five hole shot through the wickets of Chilliwack goalie Daniel Chenard, and completed the hat-trick with an empty netter.

The empty netter came at 16:28. Chiefs head coach Jason Tatarnic is not shy about pulling his goalies super early. He’s been known to employ this tactic in the middle of a game before, and it’s outside-the-box thinking that I appreciate. You’re down 4-1 to a division rival on home ice. Why not? What’s the worst that’s going to happen?

Anyhow, PG comes out of the weekend with a three point lead over Surrey in the Mainland division.

The Chiefs would have been really hard-pressed to catch the Spruce Kings for first place, but that was probably the final nail in that coffin.

Chilliwack (22-19-2-3) holds down fourth place with two games in hand on each of the teams in front of them (Langley/Surrey/Prince George). They can overtake Langley and Surrey if they can string together some wins, but they have a tough road trip this weekend as they head to Prince George to play two in the Spruce Kings’ barn.

Side note: Devon Mussio played his 100th game in an Express uni Saturday. He played his 100th BCHL game the previous Sunday in a 2-1 upset win over Vernon.

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Watch out for the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.

Brandon Whistle scored the first three goals of his BCHL career, including the overtime winner Sunday as SA topped the Surrey Eagles 4-3 at the Shaw Centre. Whistle is a 20 year old forward who was acquired from Vernon at the trade deadline. Whistle didn’t score in 16 games with the Vipers, and prior to that he toiled in the AJHL for the Bonnyville Pontiacs.

His statistical history shows he can put pucks in nets, and it would be huge for Salmon Arm if he could find his scoring touch.

As it is, the surging Silverbacks have won six straight games and are 8-2-0-1 in 2018.

Not that it’ll make a huge difference, but Salmon Arm is only four points back of the West Kelowna Warriors for fifth place in the Interior division.

Here’s Trevor Adams scoring the OT winner vs Alberni Valley Friday, providing another look at those special MADD jerseys. Still trying to figure out what I think of those.

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Finally, something different.

The Surrey Eagles conducted a fun exercise recently, quizzing six American-born players with a bit of Canadian trivia.

Players grilled were Jordan Robert (New York), Aaron White (Ohio), Connor Sundquist (Connecticut), Chase Danol (Michigan), Jackson Ross (Colorado), Brendan Winslow (Washington), Perry Winfree (North Carolina) and Dominic Dumas (Idaho).

If I’m being completely honest, the questions were pretty tough unless you recently took a Grade 4 social studies class.

I suspect a lot of Canadians would have trouble answering them, and I’m still not 100 per cent sure how a true Canadian pronounces Toronto. Tor-on-toe? Taranta? Toranta? Toronta?

And who is the highest selling Canadian musical artist/band? The answer may surprise you.

Eric Welsh is the sports editor at the Chilliwack Progress and has been covering junior A hockey in B.C. and Alberta since 2003.

Email eric.welsh@theprogress.com

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