The Merritt Centennials hockey club lost some valuable commodities last week.
Cents’ head coach and GM Joe Martin confirmed rumours that the hockey team is losing three of its top forwards and its highest scoring defenceman to the rival United States Hockey League (USHL).
Centennials forwards Tyler Ward, Michael Regush and Zach Risteau, along with defenceman Zach Metsa have all decided to seek their fortunes south of the border with teams in Tri-City, Wash., Youngstown, Penn., and Chicago, Ill. All four have already committed to play for NCAA universities beginning in the fall of 2018.
“The landscape is changing rapidly,” Martin told the Merritt Herald. “For many, loyalty to a team, a community, a program doesn’t exist anymore.”
Risteau, a Minnesota native, led the team in scoring last season as an 18-year-old rookie, putting up 26 goals and 50 points. The St. Lawrence University commit will suit up with the Chicago Steel next season.
The 19-year-old, Regush, of Surrey played two full seasons with the Cents and counted 36 points in 47 games in 2016-17. Regush is committed to Cornell University but will play in Youngstown with the Phantoms this season, while the 18-year-old Ward scored 14 goals and 30 points in 34 games with the Saints and is a University of Denver commit. The Kamloops native is off to Tri Cities to play with the Storm.
Also heading to Youngstown, and perhaps one of the Cents biggest losses, is that of defenceman, Metsa, who at 18 led all Merritt defencemen in scoring with 27 points in 57 games. The Delafield, Wisconsin native is committed to play for Quinnipiac.
Although disappointed at the loss of four important players who were expected to return this season, Martin said it’s the new reality in hockey at all levels.
“Trying to build a team [in Junior A] when you don’t have a draft and you don’t have ownership [of prospects] is very difficult. Every player you talk to is talking to five or six other teams — and not just in your league.”