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PREVIEW: Smoke Eaters begin 2020 with home and homes series against Merritt

As the calendar flips to 2020, the Smoke Eaters sit second in the Interior division with 18 games remaining on their schedule, with the next three in a row coming against the Merritt Centennials, starting tonight in Merritt.

Regular season series vs Merritt

October 4th @ South Okanagan Events Centre (BCHL Showcase) 7-1W (BOXSCORE)

November 27th @ Nicola Valley Memorial Arena 9-2W (BOXSCORE)

January 3rd @ Nicola Valley Memorial Arena 7pm

January 4th @ Cominco Arena 7pm

January 7th @ Cominco Arena 7pm

January 18th @ Cominco Arena 7pm

February 22nd @ Nicola Valley Memorial Arena

The Smoke Eaters return from a 13 day break to resume their BCHL season in Merritt, as they play three in a row against the Centennials to start 2020. The Smoke Eaters last game was a 4-3 comeback thriller against the Cowichan Valley Capitals to end 2019. A win that helped the Smoke Eaters tie their win total from last season at 23 and hit the 50 point mark with still 18 games to go. Both teams could be a little rusty with a lengthy break for both sides. The Smoke Eaters have had their way with the Centennials in the last two games, more so in the last meeting. The Smoke Eaters beat Merritt 7-1 at the BCHL showcase and then 9-2 in Merritt at the end of November. The Smoke Eaters went 7/10 on the power play, including 6/6 in the first period to take a dominate lead over the Centennials that night. Given the previous two games the Smoke Eaters will have to not underestimate their opponents over these next three games, while knowing these are six very winnable points for the Smokies. With 18 games remaining Kent Johnson and Mike Colella sit 1 & 2 in league scoring, Owen Ozar sits comfortably in fourth while Philippe Lapointe continues to charge up the scoring charts averaging just shy of 2-points-per-game. Lapointe and Johnson are each on streaks, Johnson has three game goal streak, arguably his two best of the season, while the Smoke Eaters captain is riding a 8 game point streak.

Smoke Eaters leading scorers:

Johnson (27-42-69)
Colella (16-31-47)
Ozar (15-31-46)
Lapointe (14-22-36)
Ghirardosi (18-14-32)

It’s not all doom and gloom in Merritt, last years team that finished 2nd in the interior is a in a rebuild that has started to show a turn around. They’ve moved past West Kelowna for the final playoff spot and have points in five of their last ten going 2-5-0-3. While he probably won’t be back for this weekend series, Daniel Tkac, the lone BCHL player in the World Juniors in the Czech Republic, was eliminated with Slovakia on Thursday by team Canada. Tkac who has eight goals and fifteen assists will be missed this weekend, as he was on the last weekend before the break. The addition of Christian Buono has also been a positive for the Cents. The Centennials wrapped up 2019 with a three game weekend that started with a 6-2 win over West Kelowna, before losing the next night to the same team and then on the Sunday to the Capitals. The Centennials will want to avoid a warm up violation again to keep the Smoke Eaters off the power play. The Cents special teams has struggled against the Smoke Eaters, going 1/9 on the power play and allowing eight power play goals on fourteen attempts.

Merritt Centennials leading scorers:

Buono (8-22-30)
Matsui (8-17-25)
Tkac (8-15-23)
Van Unen (9-9-18)
Manty (7-11-18)

Puck drop from Merritt goes at 7pm from the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena as the Smoke Eaters look to start 2020 the same way they ended 2019. Catch the game on HockeyTV or Mixlr with Ben Phillips starting at 6:50pm