The Merritt Herald ramped up its’ coverage of the Centennials this week with three articles:
Cents’ camp opens next week
By Chris Koehn – Merritt Herald and Ian Webster – Merritt Herald
Hold on to your hats, folks! It’s hockey time again!
The Merritt Centennials 2009/10 training camp begins this coming Monday, officially kicking off the Cents’ 37th consecutive season in the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL).
A lot has happened in the five and half months since the 2008/09 version of the Centennials hockey team limped out of the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena in late February, victims of a disastrous season both on and off the ice (see sidebar).
Gone is the entire Centennials’ coaching staff – head coach and general manager Al Glendinning, along with assistants Bill Birks, Wayne Wittal and Gilles Leberre. The board of directors has seen a huge facelift, as has the community-based non-profit society that bankrolls the day-to-day operations of the small-market, longest continuously-running BCHL franchise.
The new Cents’ coaching staff is headed up by Dylan Forsythe, who comes to Merritt from the Alberta Junior Hockey League, where he was assistant coach for Sherwood Park. Dylan has experience in tournament play as coach of the Central Thrashers during this spring’s Alberta Cup Tourney.
Dylan’s coaching assistant this coming season will be his brother, Tyler Forsythe. Tyler will also fill the position of general manager. Tyler accepted a job with the Thompson Major Midget Blazers earlier this spring as assistant coach, but stepped down upon being offered the Merritt assistant coaching position.
Rounding out the bench personnel for the Cents will be athletic therapist/equipment manager Jason Kitzan. He spent last season as the athletic trainer for the Brooks Bandits of the AJHL, as well as the Calgary Vipers of the Golden Baseball League.
This season’s Cents’ training camp should be a spirited one with close to 100 players expected to take part over the course of the week. Rookies will take to the ice first for a series of one-hour scrimmages on Monday and Tuesday, with the top 40–45 being invited to participate in a final rookies-only game Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. Further cuts will take place following that game.
Twenty or so lucky ‘newbies’ will carry on, and be joined by the 21 veterans (players with Junior A experience) for further scrimmages commencing Wednesday evening and continuing Thursday and Friday. Training camp will officially wrap up Friday evening with the annual Black-Red intersquad game at 7:30 p.m.
On the ice, Centennials’ fans can expect to see a number of new and familiar faces over the five days of training camp. In total, 16 players with ties to last year’s Cents’ squad will be on hand to try and impress the Forsythe brothers.
Between the pipes, Kyle Nielsen will be the only returning netminder, however he will be pushed for the starter’s role by close to a dozen highly-regarded young prospects that have been invited to this year’s camp.
The possible blueline brigade for the Cents this year looks very impressive on paper, and should go a long way towards reducing the woeful goals and shots against averages that characterized last season’s Merritt team. Steve Tresierra, Brad Bourke, Jake Baker and Matt Mazzarola are all returning defensemen who should be a year older, a year wiser and a year stronger. They will be joined at training camp by Ryne Bodger and Derek Hills, a pair of experienced D-men acquired from the Powell River Paper Kings, as well as Jeff Zmurchyk from the Trail Smoke Eaters.
Up front, expect to see several old faces from the 2008/09 Cents’ team at this year’s training camp, but also expect to see a bucket load of fresh talent too, vying for six to seven probable openings in the forward ranks.
Returning is last year’s second-leading team scorer Dustin Johnson, along with Michael Nardi, Colton Sobchak, Gary Rai, Alessio Tomassetti, Ryan Aynsley, Alex Valenti, Jordan Soquila, Kevin Philp and Alexander MacMillan.
Confirmed newcomers, the result of trades last year or in the off-season, include Thomas Hardy from the Burnaby Express and Stephen Walls from the St. Albert Steel of the AJHL.
The Cents will play their first of five exhibition games at 7 p.m. on Aug. 31, at home versus the Penticton Vees. The only other home preseason game will be on Sept. 4 against the Salmon Arm Silverbacks, starting at 7:30 p.m. Admission for each of the exhibition games will be $5 per person.
In other news, defenseman Casey Fratkin was traded to the Nanaimo Clippers for future considerations last week. Fratkin originally began life as a Cent as a fourth line energy player, but former coach Al Glendinning decided to move him to the blue line where he played his best hockey. Fratkin debuted with the Cents at the start of the 2006/07 season, playing 45 games and posting five goals and five assists. Fratkin returned to the Cents last season after a brief stint with Vernon, North Bay and Chase.
MY TWO CENTS
By Ian Webster – Merritt Herald
Little wonder that heads rolled, and the house was cleaned after the debacle that was the Merritt Centennials 2008/09 hockey season. It was in no uncertain terms a year that anyone who cared would just as soon forget.
The Cents produced their third worst record in team history, 13-38-1-8 (good for just 35 points), and finished dead last in the BCHL – for the second year in a row. The win, loss and points columns convey only a small part of last season’s horrid story however. The true extent of the nightmare can be found in some other telling statistics.
The Centennials were outshot by their opponents in 51 of 60 games, by a whopping margin of 2365-1764 (39.4 to 29.4 per game).
The beleaguered netminding trio of Graeme Gordon, Kyle Nielson and Harrison May faced 40 or more shots a mind-numbing 30 times, while the Cents themselves mustered that much firepower against their opponents on only six occasions.
Opposition snipers feasted on the Cents from September through February. Merritt allowed a total of 305 goals against in 60 games (41 more than any other BCHL team), for an average of 5.10 per contest. Meanwhile, goal-starved Centennials’ players found the back of the net just 156 times all year for a meager 2.60 goals for per game average, again the lowest in the league.
With just 13 wins to their credit all last season, little wonder the team endured some crushing losing streaks, including a 16-game winless stretch from Nov. 1 right through until Dec. 21.
Inevitably and somewhat understandably, the year-long misery-on-ice last season lead to a revolving door in terms of the Centennials’ line-up. No fewer than 47 different players donned the Cents’ jersey for one or more games as head coach and general manager Al Glendinning sent perceived underachievers packing, airlifted in would-be saviours, and watched as more than a few discouraged or disgruntled players demanded a trade or just up and left the team.
Off the ice, the tales of woe were every bit as bad – and sad. Average attendance at Centennials’ games last season hit an all-time low of just 450 paying customers, 190 less than the year before, and 173 fewer than the next lowest BCHL franchise, the Quesnel Millionaires.
The dismal attendance figures were just one part of a bleak financial picture that saw the longest continuously running franchise in the BCHL hanging by a thread – horribly in debt, sinking fast, with no lifeline anywhere to be found.
Cents crew shifts again
By Chris Koehn – Merritt Herald
The Merritt Centennials have a new general manager and coaching staff this week, leaving hockey fans with a lot of unanswered questions and concerns over the fate of the season.
Former coach and general manager Joey Bouchard resigned over the weekend, citing irreconcilable differences with the board of directors. Bouchard was unavailable for comment.
The move came only weeks after Bouchard’s former boss and Whitecourt Wolverines owner Brent Stark rescinded his bid to purchase the cash-strapped team.
The Centennials board of directors say there was no reason given yet for the breakdown, but Stark’s associate, Marc Chayer, said on Tuesday that they plan to shed some light on the situation later this week.
Siblings Dylan and Tyler Forsythe took the Cents’ helm yesterday. While Dylan will fill the role as head coach, Tyler is settling in as general manager and assistant coach.
As of Tuesday, Dylan was not able to provide in-depth commentary on the situation, but did say that training camp and the season will move ahead as scheduled.
Board Governor Brian Barrett was able to confirm that the season was not in jeopardy, but stressed that the team still needs the support from the community in terms of ticket sales.
“We’ve contacted almost all of the players from last year and they’re ready to come back and play,” says Barrett. “But we need a lot more people to make that commitment to season tickets because we as a board made that commitment to keep the club here. We’re counting on people to support the hockey club in Merritt.”
Dylan comes from the Alberta Junior Hockey League as an assistant coach for Sherwood Park and had coached the Central Thrashers at the Alberta Cup Tournament in spring.
Tyler served as a scout in Sherwood Park last season and was named assistant coach of the Thompson Major Midget Blazers earlier this year, but stepped down to come to Merritt.
The BCHL is also expected to weigh in some time this week.