BCHL Today: Merritt Centennials keep moving while Salmon Arm Silverbacks slide

BCHL Today is a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

Welcome to the Feb. 23, 2018 edition of BCHL Today, a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

Kicking off with a Thursday night matchup between two teams heading in different directions.

Last weekend’s scheduled game between Merritt and Salmon Arm was wiped out by weather and the game was made up last night at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena. The Silverbacks came out of it wishing the game had just disappeared entirely.

Salmon Arm lost 6-1, continuing a late-season skid that’s now seen them lose five of their last six.

Taking out a 5-2 win over Coquitlam, the combined score in the other games is 26-3 in favour of Silverback opponents, which is an ugly stat to be taking into the playoffs. On the flipside, Merritt has won five of their last six plus a 2-2 tie with Victoria, roaring past Salmon Arm in the Interior division standings. The Centennials are getting buzz now as the lower seed you don’t want to face in the post-season.

Merritt followed a familiar recipe in their blowout win over the Silverbacks, with goaltending and special teams making the difference.

Netminder Austin Roden turned in another solid start, stopping 25 of 26 pucks. The penalty kill snuffed out three Salmon Arm power plays while the Centennials scored four times with the man advantage.

They led 2-0 after 20 minutes on power play goals by Michael Van Unen and Mathieu Gosselin, and got another Van Unen PP goal early in period two. Even strength strikes by Jackson Munro and Matthew Kopperud had them up by five through 40 minutes. Salmon Arm’s Nick Unruh broke up Roden’s shutout bid midway through period three and Merritt’s Brendan Schneider wrapped up the scoring with another power play goal.

The Centennials are doing their very best to keep the heat on the West Kelowna Warriors, who currently occupy the fifth seed in the Interior division standings. West K leads Merritt by three points. Each team has two games to play and one of those is a head to head tonight at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena. Should the Centennials win, it’d come down to Saturday, with Merritt visiting Langley and the Warriors traveling to Salmon Arm.

And why does this matter so much?

Merritt finishes fifth and they draw a struggling Trail squad. They finish sixth and it’s either Vernon or Wenatchee.

Which would you want?

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I touched briefly on Cooper Zech yesterday, one of the BCHL’s nominees for the Top Defenceman Award.

Wenatchee play-by-play man Arch Ecker followed up with this note.

“Cooper Zech has destroyed the franchise career assist mark for a defenseman. The old record was 55 held by Tyler Rockwell, who achieved his number in 157 career games. Zech tied, then passed that mark with a three assist night on Wednesday at West Kelowna. It was Game 56 for Zech.”

Taking 2017-18 in isolation, the Michigan native is second in the league in scoring, which is spectacular for a defenceman. No one has more assists than the future Ferris State Bulldog, who has racked up 58 helpers.

I mentioned yesterday that the next highest scoring BCHL defenceman is Vernon’s Michael Ufberg, who lags 18 points back.

I also said yesterday that Zech is producing a historic season, and in that regard I was a bit hyperbolic.

The modern era of BCHL record keeping dates back to the 2003-04 season, and in that time four defenceman have produced higher point totals. Mike Reilly of the Penticton Vees tops the list with an astounding 83 points in 2011-12, and Penticton’s Joey Laleggia produced 82 points in 2010-11. Going back to the early 2000s, Troy Newton had 75 points for the 2003-04 Trail Smoke Eaters and Alan Mazur rolled up 70 points with the 2005-06 Burnaby Express.

Still, Zech’s keeping very good company, and it should be noted that scoring in the BCHL this year compared with some of those seasons is down considerably.

Zech can proudly say he surpassed the 67 points produced by Dante Fabbro in 2015-16. A few months later, Fabbro was selected by the Nashville Predators in the first round of the 2016 National Hockey League entry draft.

All of this is to say, Cooper is good at hockey.

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The Powell River Kings handed out team awards following their 7-1 white-washing of the Chilliwack Chiefs last weekend.

The highlights are as follows.

Despite ranking third in team scoring behind Ben Berard and Jonny Evans, Carter Turnbull was named the team MVP.

Berard received the top scorer award.

The top defenceman award went to two players, Carmine Buono and Andy Stevens, who also won the team’s unsung hero award. The rookie of the year award went to Ethan Kimball, a 17 year old forward who produced 14 goals and 26 points in 53 games. The most improved player award went to second-year defenceman Ben Raffler.

Gavin Rauser secured a fascinating combo of awards. The Campbell River native was presented the True Grit Award, which is ‘presented to the player who never gives up and consistently shows courage and determination.’ He also won the most sportsmanlike player award, which is ‘presented to the player who plays with a high level of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct.’

Powell River native Hunter Findlater, who is wrapping up his Kings career, was named the most inspirational player while Evans won the crowd favourite award. Callum Volpe was recognized for his work in the community and Nathan Kelly was lauded for academic excellence while goalie Mitch Adamyk won the Coach’s Choice Award, ‘presented to the player who best demonstrates the true spirit of Kings hockey. Hard work, personal improvement, a willingness to understand, learn and partner with the coaching staff.’

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The Langley Rivermen have secured the services of a hot-shot goal scorer for next season with the commitment of Justin Plett.

The 2000-born forward has spent this season captaining the Fraser Valley Thunderbirds of the B.C. Major Midget Hockey League, where he’s scored 30 goals in 32 games.

Only one player in the 11-team league, Cariboo Cougar Hunter Floris, has lit the lamp more than Plett. Floris has 34 while Nolan Krogfoss of the Valley West Hawks also has 30.

Plett has added 18 assists for 48 points, the eighth highest total in the league.

“I like to shoot the puck. I feel I have good instincts and finish around the net and I’m being rewarded for it this season,” Plett said in a Rivermen press release. “I like to play on both sides of the puck, be physical and engage physically when I can. I have gotten a few good looks in the five games I’ve played so far this year with the Rivermen I just haven’t been able to capitalize.”

“Justin came in with an open mind, wanted to earn an opportunity and you can really see his smarts not only in games but also in practices,” added Thunderbirds assistant coach Stefano Ruscitti. “You can’t teach goal scoring. You can work on it to refine it but at the end of the day goal scorers are special players and a goal per game in any league is impressive.”

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We finish with a scholarship, as Salmon Arm defenceman Austin Chorney commits to the Ohio State Buckeyes.

The Abbotsford native must have done something special to catch the eye of OSU, which isn’t known for its love of BCHL players. A quick look at the roster of this year’s Buckeyes reveals not a single BCHL grad. Of the 27 players listed, 25 hail from the USHL with one each from the NAHL and Alberta Junior Hockey League.

In his second full season in the BCHL and still only 17 years old, Chorney has collected six goals, nine points and 47 penalty minutes in 48 games. Physically, he looks ready to handle the rigours of college hockey, standing six-foot-one and weighing 215 pounds.

His future team is doing well in the Big 10 Conference this season. Ohio State holds down second place with a record of 22-12-8-2, doing battle nightly with the likes of Notre Dame, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Penn State.

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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