Making sense of the Cents’ offseason moves


The Merritt Centennials have nowhere to go but up in 2020-21 after finishing last in the BC Hockey League last season and were the lone team to not make the playoffs.

As general manager and head coach Derek Sweet-Coulter enters his first full season at the helm of the league’s longest continuously-run franchise, the Centennials had a busy three months since the unofficial start of 2020-21 at the beginning of June.

The Cents made a total of nine trades since June 1, which saw five players join and seven players leave.

Newcomers add sandpaper and leadership

When the dust settled, 2001-born forward Tyler Schleppe was acquired by the Centennials and traded away within a period of 24 hours. Schleppe, who had 32 points in 56 games for Coquitlam in 2019-20, was one of four forwards picked up by Sweet-Coulter this summer. The Vancouver product was the future considerations from the January 4 trade that saw 1999-born defenseman Joey Berkopec head to the Express.

After his rights were nabbed by the Centennials, one became two as they flipped Schleppe to the Nanaimo Clippers for 2000-born forward Zack Dallazanna and 2001-born forward Brandon Dent.

Dallazanna is a veteran of 94 BCHL games, with nine points in two seasons with the Clippers. The Port Moody, BC product might get a more offensive opportunity in Merritt as he showed a bit of a scoring touch with the Vancouver North East Chiefs in the BC U18 AAA league before joining Nanaimo in the fall of 2018. He posted 56 points in 78 games with the Chiefs from 2015-18.

In a news release announcing the trade, Sweet-Coulter expressed what it means to add a veteran like Dallazanna. “Zack is a great person who has a tremendous amount of experience and will provide a veteran presence in the room with leadership capability. He plays a hard physical game and competes for the middle of the ice.”

Dent is another player who might benefit from an expanded role in Merritt. He was scoring at a decent clip with 21 points in 28 games with the West Kelowna Warriors before being traded to the Clippers in late November.

The Prince George product scored five points in 21 games with Nanaimo to wrap up the 2019-20 season. Dent also showed a solid scoring touch in the BC U18 AAA league, finishing sixth overall in scoring in 2017-18 with 59 points in 40 games.

Sweet-Coulter added that Dent should provide scoring for the Centennials. “Brandon is a highly skilled, speedy playmaker and goal scorer who will provide offense for us next season. He competes hard and can play with a physical edge as well.”

Help in goal and on the blueline

The Cents also added experience on the blueline with the acquisition of 2000-born defenseman Grayson Valente from the Alberni Valley Bulldogs in exchange for 2001-born forward Josh Van Unen and future considerations.

Valente, not to be confused with Centennials legend Alex Valenti, has played 138 BCHL games over the last three seasons and put up 39 points.

The Vancouverite saw his goal total drop from eight to two from 2018-19 to last season, but he also played six fewer games. Sweet-Coulter mentions in the trade news release that Valente brings a solid, two-way presence.

“Grayson is a big shutdown defenseman who has a long reach, skates well, and has the skill to make a good first pass and contribute offensively. He is a workhorse who competes in all three zones and will be a welcome veteran presence on our blue line.”

2000-born goaltender Josh Dias is also on his way to Merritt after being grabbed from the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Lloydminster Bobcats for 200-born forward Chase Nameth.

Dias is from Surrey and played 62 games over the last two seasons split between the Bobcats and the Fort McMurray Oil Barons. His AJHL numbers don’t jump off the page, but in 2017-18, he had the best goals-against-average in the BC U18 AAA league with the Valley West Hawks.

Sweet-Coulter expects the 20-year-old to shine as the incumbent veteran for the Cents. “Josh is a proven starting goalie at the junior A level and a workhorse who started 40 games last season. The experience he will bring to the team will be a welcome asset.”

Erickson, the young vet

At 18-years-old, Walker Erickson is the youngest player the Centennials acquired via trade this offseason. He joins Merritt as the future considerations from the January 7 deal which saw the Centennials send 2000-born forward Matt Osadick to the Trail Smoke Eaters.

Erickson had nine points in 31 games as a rookie on a deep Smokies team this past season. He’s got some offensive ability as well, putting up 38 points in 38 games as a 17-year-old with the Valley West Giants in the BC U18 AAA league in 2018-19.

“He plays a power forward game and has tremendous speed and skill,” said Sweet-Coulter in a team-issued news release. “Add in high end compete and character and he’s the kind of player we look forward to adding to the roster.”

Hope springs eternal in the offseason

The Centennials also made four trades that saw them ship out players while receiving future considerations, likely cash, in return. All told, the seven players Merritt sent away totaled 117 points in 2019-20 while the five players the Cents acquired totaled 57 points. It’s not really a fair comparison because as a goaltender, obviously Dias was picked up to keep the puck out of the net, not put it in.

The Cents defensive woes were a bigger issue than scoring in 2019-20 and the team finished with a -111 goal differential, 48 goals worse than the next closest team. So shoring up in their own zone and being more difficult to play against looks to be a priority for Sweet-Coulter and his staff this offseason.

The hope has to be that some of the players acquired flourish in expanded roles and each of the returning players takes a step forward in their play. The Cents also have some highly touted recruits coming in along with the conscious and bold decision of carrying no American players this season.

The Centennials have reason to be optimistic about the upcoming season because this team is now completely built in Sweet-Coulter’s mold, and at this point, every team is starting with a clean slate.