SHERWOOD PARK, AB – The Sherwood Park Crusaders will look to extend their winning streak to three games on Friday night as they host the Drayton Valley Thunder for the start of a quick two game homestand this weekend at the Sherwood Park Arena.
The Crusaders and Thunder met just a few days ago on Wednesday night in Drayton Valley with Sherwood Park picking up a 4-2 win.
Although there were some bright spots in the victory, Crusaders Head Coach Adam Manah felt there was more to give from his group.
“I didn't think we were totally on our game Wednesday night. We struggled with managing the puck, and in doing so gave them a lot of unnecessary scoring chances. However, we still did some good things. We created a lot of scoring opportunities ourselves, and if we had some more finish around the net, we would have scored a few more. Our goaltending was solid throughout the game when it needed to be. Biggest thing for our group was that despite it not being our best game, we found a way to grind it out to get a greasy win on the road. Good teams find a way to do that some nights. This was the first time our team has been able to do that.” Said Manah.
The goaltending Manah was referring too was the play of Josh Dechaine. The newly acquired netminder picked up his first victory as a Crusaders and first win in the AJHL since December 18th, 2015.
“Dechaine was solid in the pipes. His rebound control was steady for the most part, and he did what a good goalie is supposed to do when the team isn't as sharp in front of him. We were happy to see him get the monkey off his back, and get his first win.” Noted Manah on the play of Dechaine.
The Crusaders got some decent play offensively from the line of Ashton Cassault, Erik Miller and William Zapernick on Wednesday night.
The trio combined for six points, including, three points Zapernick and a pair of goals from Cassault.
“It was nice to get a chance to play with some guys I haven’t played with yet this year. Erik and William are hard working players that can move the puck,” Said Cassault, who had his first multi goal game of his AJHL career on Wednesday. “We kept it simple, used each other and were able to have success offensively.”
“Thought that line played well for us. They stepped up and scored us three of our four goals with Cassault having two of them. They executed some of the things we've been working on in practice the last couple days. It was nice to see them get rewarded because they worked hard, and they were our best line last night. As a team we need different guys stepping up each night.” Added Manah.
Friday night the Crusaders should get a hard-fought effort from the Thunder as they went through a coaching change this past week.
Former Spruce Grove Saints Assistant Coach Ryan Rechner was hired on to be the new Head Coach in Drayton Valley after the team got off to a 3-18-0 start.
The Thunder are currently five points back of the Lloydminster Bobcats for the final playoff spot in the Viterra North Division.
The Crusaders are hoping they can generate the kind of offense that they did against the Thunder earlier on this year, especially just like in the opening game of the year at the Sherwood Park Arena, with the Cru scoring seven goals in a 7-4 against Drayton Valley.
“We saw them come out hard Wednesday night, and we don't expect it to be any different when a team makes a coaching change. They are going to want to make an impression [on Ryan], and try to get him his first win. It'll be a grind once again against a team that works hard shift to shift.” Said Manah on Friday’s game.
Saturday Sherwood Park will host the Whitecourt Wolverines for the final time this season. The Crusaders have had some tightly contested battles on home ice against one of the best teams in the division.
On September 24th, the Wolverines edged out the Crusaders 4-3 in overtime and most recently on October 28th, a back and forth game that saw Whitecourt pick up a 5-3 win.
Sherwood Park felt they deserved a better fate on October 28th, but good teams find a way to win, just like what happened to the Crusaders on Wednesday.
But in order for success against the Wolverines, Sherwood Park will need to play a complete 60 minute hockey game.
“That's exactly what the message will be. We have felt like we've played Whitecourt extremely tight all year, and we're hoping that if we can put in a full 60 minutes against them that we will get rewarded at the end of the night. Work ethic, discipline, and managing the puck will all be key in order to accomplish that.” Says Manah.
The players certainly know they will have to put in quite the effort in against the Wolverines, and will hoping to begin that Friday by implementing that on the Thunder.
“We have to stick to our game plan, keep it simple and get pucks behind defensemen. If we play around with the puck near the blue lines and get too fancy, that’s where we will run into trouble. If we manage the puck properly and get pucks to the net, we’ll give ourselves the best chance to win.” Notes Cassault.
The Crusaders will hope to pick up points this weekend as they try to keep pace with the Bonnyville Pontiacs, who are two points up on the Crusaders for fifth in the division with 21.
The Pontiacs visit Grande Prairie Friday night and host Whitecourt on Sunday.
-Story by Taylor Medak
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