SHERWOOD PARK, AB – The Sherwood Park Crusaders are in for another tough test Wednesday night as they travel to Spruce Grove, looking to snap their seven-game losing streak against the Saints.
The losing streak came to seven after dropping both weekend games this past Saturday and Sunday, 3-2 to the Bonnyville Pontiacs and an 8-3 grubbing at the hands of the Fort McMurray Oil Barons.
“Saturday's game against Bonnyville was a tight game. We played okay through forty minutes but thought our third period was the best in terms of creating zone time, and offensive chances. It's no secret right now that we need our goaltending to be better, and our forwards need to pay a price in getting to the net to score more goals.” Says Crusaders Head Coach Adam Manah.
“Sunday, we spotted the MOB a 4-1 lead after the first period and could never recover. Give them a lot of credit they are a solid team from the back end out, and we are hoping in a year or two we'll be where they are at now.” Added the coach.
Certainly, the Oil Barons proved once again to the Crusaders why they are on of the best teams in the AJHL.
“The weekend was tough, a close one against Bonnyville and a tough one against Fort McMurray as they played three games in three days. I don’t know if we thought they were going to be tired or what, but they proved why they are near the top of the league on Sunday.” Said Crusaders Forward Tyson Gruninger.
Sherwood Park is trying all they can right now to try and get out of the team’s longest losing streak of the season, after Sunday’s loss to the Oil Barons, the coaching staff decided that rest and recovery is more important and gave the team a couple of days off leading up to Wednesday’s game in Spruce Grove.
“The rest and more the need for the guys to just get away from the rink for a couple days was the biggest thing. Obviously, we've been banged up all year, and it's taken a toll on our entire line-up but maybe the area it's hitting the most is in the pipes. Vogel hasn't been able to get any rest with him having to play every game with Brindza out.” Said Manah.
Crusader Goaltender Brandon Vogel has certainly seen a lot of action over the first month and a half of 2018, starting 13 of the last 15 games.
Vogel is also ranked fifth with 38 games played and one of two rookies to play more than thirty games.
The Crusaders are hoping their netminder can give them the same performance he had to end the 2017 calendar year with a 49 save performance in Spruce Grove in a 4-2 loss against the Saints.
Spruce Grove has had the Crusaders number this year and really have controlled the season series, leading 3-0.
Sherwood Park has only held a lead for a total of 8:07 and that came in the December 20th game.
“They've dominated us so far through three games. Don't really need to sugar coat it at all. They play with tremendous speed, move pucks quickly, and really attack you. That ultimately leads to mistakes, and they capitalize when they do get those chances.” Said Manah.
Essentially the Crusaders have to play a perfect hockey game against Spruce Grove, if they can minimize mistakes they will have a chance.
Gruninger believes that staying discipline and special teams will be key as well.
“We are going to have to get pucks on net and be physical. We need to play a five on five game as much as possible as their power play and penalty kill are best in the league.” Says the former Saint.
The Drayton Valley, AB native, who started the 2017-18 season with Edmonton of the Western Hockey League, appeared in 16 games with Spruce Grove before being dealt to Sherwood Park at the January 10th trade deadline.
“I’m excited to play in Spruce Grove, it’ll be different being on the other end of things but I think I’ll have fun with it and hopefully we get the outcome we’re looking for.” Notes Gruninger.
Sherwood Park will be facing a Saint team that is 9-1-0 in their last 10 games and the only team in the Viterra North Division with 40 wins.
The Saints have been the class of the north all year and are trying to secure another division title and a first-round bye for the post season.
Much like with facing Will Conley from the Oil Barons on Sunday, the Crusaders will have to deal with the AJHL’s leading scorer Chris Van Os-Shaw on Wednesday night.
With 83 points and 43 goals, Van Os-Shaw has eight games remaining to score seven and become the first AJHL player since 2005-2006 to score 50 goals in a season.
Sherwood Park is hoping to slow the power forward down Wednesday night.
“We need to be aware of when he's on the ice. We will need to make sure we play him tight, and not allow him a lot of time and space in our own end or off the rush. He's an extremely good shooter, stick on puck will have to be a must by our defensemen along with finishing checks as much as we can.” Says Manah on defending the league’s leading scorer.
Defending Van Os-Shaw is a microcosm on how the Crusaders really need to defend the entire Saint lineup.
Keys will also be to get the Saints playing out of their comfort zones and being physical whenever the Crusaders can.
Sherwood Park will also have to capitalize on their opportunities because they may not get many.
In the December 20th game that led to the Crusaders obtaining a lead was converting on the man advantage and executing off faceoff plays.
It’s a tall task for the Crusaders, but if they are going to break out of their seven game losing streak, why not do it against one of their biggest rivals.
-Story by Taylor Medak
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