Morning Star Staff
The Merritt Centennials looked to their sandpiper line for offence Wednesday night in a 4-1 B.C. Hockey League win over the injury-riddled Vernon Vipers before 500 fans at Nicola Valley Arena.
Zach Zorn, Henry Cleghorn and Nick Fidanza accounted for three of the goals as the 6-4-1-1 Cents moved into a share of second place with 6-4-2 Vernon in the Interior Conference.
The threesome have accounted for five of Merritt’s last seven goals over two games. Cleghorn supplied 2+1, while Zorn earned 1+1 and took on d-man Mitchell Oliver in a third-period scrap.
The Vipers were without forwards Christian Cakebread and Ryan Brushett, with injuries, and winger Hunter Zandee, suffering from the flu. Kelowna product Hayden Dick, 17, was summoned from the Junior B Kamloops Storm and played well. Dick is second in Storm scoring with 5-7-12 in 10 games. He amassed 15 goals and 90 penalty minutes with the Major Midget Okanagan Rockets last year.
“We lost a couple of battles and the puck ended up in the back of our net,” said Viper head coach Mark Ferner. “We have to be more assertive. We had some good efforts, but not enough guys made an impact. We’re still not paying enough attention to detail.”
After surrendering an early powerplay goal to Vernon blueliner Michael Ulfberg at 9:11 of the first period, Merritt upped the tempo and never stopped. Riley Brandt and Jimmy Lambert drew helpers on the goal.
Zorn pulled the Cents even just under four minutes later, taking the puck hard to the net and beating Vernon goaltender Cole Demers. Assists went to Cleghorn and Tyrell Buckley.
The score stayed 1-1 until past the midway mark of the second stanza, when the Centennials exploded for two quick goals. First, Cleghorn scored at 14:58 from Zorn and Michael Faulkner, and then 64 seconds later, Chase Bell tallied his fourth of the season from linemates Zach Court and Rylan Van Unen.
The Centennials maintained their two-goal lead throughout the third period, until Cleghorn counted an empty netter with 46 seconds left in regulation.
Cents’ starting netminder Jake Berger looked great in turning aside 38 shots to record his fifth win of the young season. He was first star.
Vernon’s Sol Seibel was tagged with a major and game misconduct for head contact with 19 seconds remaining.
The Vipers outshot the Cents 38-35 and took six of eleven penalties. Vernon has the second best penalty kill and powerplay in the league.
Ferner will likely start rookie goalie Ty Taylor Saturday night in Chilliwack. The Chiefs are second in the Mainland Division at 7-5-1.
The Cents added 19-year-old D Zachary Bleuler from the Langley Rivermen for future considerations.
“We’re really happy to add Zachary to our team as he gives us a more solid look on our back end,” said Cents head coach/GM Joe Martin.
Bleuler is a veteran of 105 career BCHL games – all with Langley. He’s posted 34 points and 32 penalty minutes with the Rivermen.
The Penticton Vees iced the Rivermen 3-1 Wednesday night before 2,682 fans at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
Grant Cruickshank, Taylor Ward and Jonny Tychonick converted for Penticton, tops in the Interior at 10-1. Trevor Ayre replied for Langley (3-7-1-1).
The Trail Smoke Eaters celebrated new ownership by stretching their win streak to four games by grounding the Salmon Arm Silverbacks 4-1 Wednesday night before 725 fans at Cominco Arena.
Minnesota businessman Rich Murphy has agreed to a $600,00.00 deal and 90 per cent ownership of the Smokies. The Smoke Eater Society, through a limited partnership company, will retain 10 per cent of the team.
“The move to sell the team is a positive step for the community” said president Tom Gawryletz. “Rich has a tremendous amount of respect for the community and the hockey history. He’s not about money, he’s about the kids and the community.”
The Smoke Eaters have struggled with mounting debt over the past five years, a result of increasing expenses, fewer fundraising funds, and declining numbers at the gate making the future of the Smokies all but untenable.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” said Gawryletz. “Right now we’re sitting at roughly $400,000.00 in debt, and we find this basically our only way out.”
Murphy is prepared to spend his own money for improvements to the dressing facilities and he is negotiating a long term lease with the City of Trail.
n The NHL Central Scouting Service has published its preliminary list of player ratings and there are 14 Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL) players listed, including three from the BCHL: Alec Capstick, D, Langley, Griffin Mendel, D, Penticton; Kyle Betts, F, Powell River Kings.
Cale Makar, D, of the Brooks Bandits and Ian Mitchell, D, of the Spruce Grove Saints are the only B-rated prospects, meaning they could be selected in the early rounds of the 2017 entry draft in Chicago.