The West Kelowna Warriors and Merritt Centennials will meet in the postseason for just the second time in the Warriors franchise history. The first was a series win in the 2013 playoffs that saw the Warriors take the series in five games. West Kelowna will be looking to mirror their playoff run that was had last season as they captured their first Royal Bank Cup National Championship in Lloydminster, Alberta.
Game #1: Friday, March 3rd @ Royal LePage Place (7:00 PM)
Game #2: Saturday, March 4th @ Royal LePage Place (7:00 PM)
Game #3: Monday, March 6th @ Nicola Valley Memorial Arena (7:00 PM)
Game #4: Tuesday, March 7th @ Nicola Valley Memorial Arena (7:00 PM)
*Game #5: Thursday, March 9th @ Royal LePage Place (7:00 PM)
*Game #6: Friday, March 10th @ Nicola Valley Memorial Arena (7:00 PM)
*Game #7: Saturday, March 11th @ Royal LePage Place (7:00 PM)
(*- If necessary)
Instead of doing little previews before every game, I thought I would do one big series preview, especially with the little time in between games in this series. I also thought I would give an edge to a certain side when it came to forwards, defense, goaltending, special teams and playoff experience and pick an overall winner of the series. Without further adieu…
Who’s got the edge: Centennials
When looking on paper you wouldn’t think much of the Cents forward core (and that’s not dig at them at all) but upon further review, this team has a pretty deep group that has scored 14 goals in their last two meetings against the Warriors. Zach Risteau and Cade Gleekel have paced the offense for Merritt this season but the reason I give Merritt the edge here is the depth of forwards they have. Most of Merritt’s forwards are just hard working and tough to play against with guys like Brett Jewell, Zach Zorn, Stephan Seeger, Henry Cleghorn and Nick Fidanza who are all very good 200-foot forwards. They’ve added skill to help out the likes of Risteau and Gleekel with young forwards Tyler Ward and Michael Regush. The Warriors have young skill as well in the likes of Chase Stevenson, Parm Dhaliwal and Chase Dubois not to mention Connor Sodergren and Quin Foreman pacing the offense all season long. West Kelowna also have their players that are tough to play against with Cavin Tilsley and Peter Tomaras but the Warriors will have to score some goals and have their offense come through in order to try and come away with a series win.
Who’s got the edge: Warriors
Even without their captain Nick Rutigliano, who is no doubt the Warriors best defenseman, I give the Warriors the edge when it comes to the defensive side of the puck. The Warriors have playoff experience in the likes of Scott Allan and Jake Harrison plus the stability of a guy like Stephen Kleysen, who has been very good in the month of February when the Warriors have needed him the most with all the injuries coming. Tyler Jutting has made big strides in becoming more of a complete defenseman since his arrival in West Kelowna and Michael Ryan adds offense from the blueline with Jonas Gordon adding a grit factor. Merritt have good puck moving defenders in the likes of Mike Faulkner and Zach Metsa and have a bit of grit in the way of Tyrell Buckley and Zachary Bleuler but I’d give the Warriors the advantage in this series on the blueline.
Who’s got the edge: Centennials (slightly)
Out of each of the five categories I’ve decided to cover here, this one is probably the closest. The Warriors goaltending will have to be as good as it ever has and it will fall on the shoulders of 17-year-old Cole Demers as Gabriel Morency is unlikely to dress in at least the first two games of the series. Demers has the ability to steal a game or two and the Warriors will need him to do that in order to come away with a series win. Jacob Berger, who I believe will see most of the crease in the opening round series, has been good this season but has been susceptible to some rough stretches of play against the Warriors this year and that’s why this subject is tight. One thing is for sure and that’s that this series is going to be as tight as it gets.
Who’s got the edge: Centennials
This one is probably the one category that is farthest apart as the Warriors know their special teams has to be better. A 16th ranked PP and a 14th ranked in PK will not cut it and will need to improve. Merritt had the 3rd ranked PP in the regular season and, especially playing at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena, it will be important to keep the penalties on a low and play smart, hard hockey. I don’t really know how else to explain this in depth outside of the Warriors needing a better effort when it comes to special teams and need to stay disipline against a strong power play. I only have one other tidbit to add and it comes courtesy of the Merritt Herald’s article on Thursday previewing the playoff series, and one particular excerpt. The full link is HERE (thanks to Sharon Tomaras for pointing this out to me) but the real interesting piece to this is calling the Warriors play “stupid” and letting them “self-destruct”. A little emotional for a newspaper article, don’t you think?
Who’s got the edge: Warriors (by quite a bit)
I think this key carries more weight than most people understand as the ability to have six players who played over 30 playoff games last season is a big one and the Warriors will have to use every bit of playoff experience they have to get an edge on the Cents. Those six players who made the RBC run last year (Connor Sodergren, Quin Foreman, Jake Harrison, Scott Allan, Jared Marino and Nicholas Rutigliano) amass 210 of the 250 career Junior ‘A’ playoff games the Warriors have as a team total. Playoff knowledge is everything at this time of the year and the Warriors will lean heavily on their veterans to use that. Merritt has not been to the playoffs since 2015 and has only 31 games of Junior ‘A’ playoff experience on their roster with three players (Tyrell Buckley, Nick Fidanza and Stephan Seeger) playing with the club the last time they reached the postseason.
Warriors win series in seven games
Even though I gave Merritt the edge in three of the five categories, I think that playoff experience will play a big factor into the series and I see the Warriors coming away with the series win. It’ll be a tough, physically demanding series no doubt, but I think the Warriors have enough in the tank to defeat the Centennials. As mentioned, the Warriors will have to get more scoring and be more productive on their PP while limiting PK chances, but guys like Sodergren and Foreman, who had big playoff runs last season, are capable of that again. Merritt isn’t an easy place to play and that’s why home ice was a big advantage and will play as a big factor in this series.