It certainly was the proverbial monkey off the back Saturday night as the Sherwood Park Crusaders snapped a two game losing streak to the Bonnyville Pontiacs and picked up their first win over their division rivals since November 26th by a score of 4-1 as the teams split a weekend home and home.
On the surface, it seems like roses and butterflies when it comes to the victory, but the Crusaders felt they weren’t quite as deserving of the victory as people might think.
“We felt we played a better game Friday on the road than we did at home on Saturday. We thought we did some good things in other areas, like blocking shots and sacrificing the body. We found a way to win Saturday, ugly, which we haven’t done all year where as Friday we didn’t get two Points where we felt we deserved better.” Said Crusaders Head Coach Adam Manah.
Sherwood Park reminded everyone that they can dazzle on Special Teams, scoring four Power Play Goals on the weekend and adding their 12th Short Handed Goal on Saturday. As Coach Manah had mentioned, there was a lot of sacrifice on the Penalty Kill when it mattered most in Saturday’s Game.
“It’s been pretty good all year in terms of sacrifice and willingness to block shots, that was very evident on Saturday when Cam Reagan and Koletrane Wilson were killing a Penalty and they blocked three or four in a row. There were about five to six blocks that were imperative in the second Period. That’s Playoff type hockey, you need that to win you games and that can be the difference between winning and losing.”
There were other intangibles that Sherwood Park will look to build off as they are set to host the Whitecourt Wolverines for the final time this season on Wednesday night.
One, was the play of Crusaders Goaltender Zac Klassen. The veteran netminder had his best game of the year, next to the 4-0 shutout of Okotoks on December 3rd, as he stopped 31 of 32 Pontiac shots.
“It was definitely good. It was always nice if you win one where you only let one Goal in against a top team like that.” Said Klassen.
“Zac deserves full credit for Saturday night’s game. He was solid, it seemed like every puck was hitting him, he was playing big. He did everything you exactly want when the team in front of him wasn’t very good.” Added Coach Manah.
Forward Jesse Zaharichuk continued his torrid scoring pace with six Points on the weekend, making it 14 Points in his last six Games.
“We didn’t get the results [Friday] night, going into Saturday we wanted to focus on the little things and it worked out for us, Zac stood tall for us in the pipes and it was a big win.” Noted Zaharichuk.
Zaharichuk’s six Point weekend earned him league honors as he was named the CanAlta Hotels AJHL Player of the Week.
The Crusaders are hoping the Sherwood Park product’s hot hand can continue into Wednesday and beyond.
“Good players make players better around them, and that’s exactly what Jesse has done. You look at the NHL and guys like Sidney Crosby who get put with anyone and they all have success.” Manah says.
Much like the build up to last weekend’s matchup with the Pontiacs, the Crusaders will face a team Wednesday that embarrassed Sherwood Park last time they had met.
Whitecourt dismantled the Crusaders 6-0 back on December 17th, five different Goal scorers for the Wolverines, led by Justin Young, who had four Points in that Game.
“We were not very good, we made a lot of those top end guys lives easy. We need to be hard to play against. They are a skilled bunch, that if they don’t play hard, don’t finish checks and don’t compete, they are easy to play against. That’s much like us, we need to have our compete level match our talent level.” Said Manah.
The Wolverines will be hungry, they’ve lost three in a row since giving GM and Head Coach Gord Thibodeau his all-time record of 833 wins back on February 3rd, and have played in six straight one Goal Games. Whitecourt trails Fort McMurray by three Points for first in the Viterra North Division with eight Games remaining.
As per usual, play tends to be a little loose historically between these two teams when they clash at the Sherwood Park Arena. This year is no different, a total of 19 Goals have been scored in the two Games so far in Sherwood Park between the Crusaders and Wolverines.
If you like Goals, then odds are you’ll be entertained.
Wednesday marks the start of a busy week for the Crusaders, as they’ll play once more at home (Friday VS Camrose) before embarking on the road to Bonnyville and Fort McMurray (Sunday and Monday), as those two Games mark the first of five straight away from the Sherwood Park Arena for the Crusaders.
-Story By Taylor Medak
photo courtesy of Target Photography
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