On Friday, September 6th, the Sherwood Park Crusaders will drop the puck on a new season for the 35th time in their history. And for the past 34 seasons, each version of the Crusaders has been different. The makeup up of the 35th season of the Crusaders is a blend of young and old, skill and size, compete and relentlessness.
The Cru finished with a 4 and 2 record in the 2013 Pre Season, with their 2 losses in the final games.
But for Head Coach and General Manager Tim Fragle, the wins and losses aren’t really taken into account.
“Preseason allows us to evaluate players. We don’t put any stock into results.”
With many new players into the fold this season, the Crusader coaching staff also has a new look.
With former Assistant Coach Brett Elanik now moving into a Hockey Operations role with the Cru, a spot opened up on the Coaching Staff roster. AJHL and NCAA alumni Scott McNeill has joined the Crusaders as an Associate Coach.
“Scott has been a good fit and offers new & fresh ideas.” Fragle added about the former Grand Prairie Storm Forward.
Tim, Scott and returning Assistant Coach Scott Cassels had some very tough decisions for the make up of this year’s Crusaders. And no position tougher, as it is still undecided, than in goal.
One of Crusaders strongest parts in the Pre Season was the play they got from their goaltenders, especially from the young ones such as Josh Mudryk and Zac Klassen. The future looks bright in net for the Cru.
“Goaltending is a position of depth for us. We had 6 very good kids. [I’m] extremely happy with our depth at this position, it has made decisions very difficult.”
Fragle will carry 3 Goaltenders to start the season. Ethan Wood ,who the Cru acquired over the summer, is the early front runner for the starting job based on AJHL experience. He will be pushed by Sherwood Park Midget AAA J.Ennis Kings graduate Tommy Nixon and young, up and coming 16 year old Zac Klassen, who backstopped his Sherwood Park Midget Minor AAA team to a provincial championship last spring.
Fragle has shown confidence in all 3 Goaltenders.
Defensively for the Crusaders it is that make up of young and old. With returning players Dane Phaneuf, Marshall Donald, Cody Bardock and newcomer to the Cru but having AJHL experience already, David Randall. There is a good core of veteran leadership on the back end but they will be pushed by the likes of 17 year olds Chase Torontow, Ben Sowa, Connor Vermulen and 18 year old Brett Magee.
“Those guys have been steady, We do expect them to be tested once the regular season gets going.” Fragle spoke of his young dmen.
That test will begin right away as the Cru face the Whitecourt Wolverines to open up the season, Whitecourt was 2nd in the league in scoring last season.
Fragle was asked if there was pressure on his veteran defensemen to be mentors for the new guys coming in.
“Yes of course in some fashion but it’s also on the younger players to practice hard and be a student of the game to get better.”
Up front for the Crusaders is size and skill. An excellent core of returning players such as, Andrew Taverner, Dillon Massie, Bowen Croft and Sean MacTavish.
“We feel we have depth. With that said, consistency will be the challenge. We do have a good blend over our 4 lines.” Fragle spoke of his Forwards.
Fragle believes the key to offence this year doesn’t come down plainly to just shooting the puck more often.
“We do want more shots but we also want to manage the puck better. We out shot a lot of teams last season and over the season we lost a lot of those games so it can be a bit misleading. I do believe puck possession is more important.”
One of the players that will be relied on to “manage’ that puck and produce, is Forward Andrew Taverner. The Edmonton, Alberta native was thought to be on his way to Quinnipiac University this season joins the Cru for the 2013 -14 season.
“Andrew will be counted on this season and he is prepared to take the next step as a player entering his 3rdyear.” Says Fragle.
When asked about some of his 2nd year Forwards, Fragle really expects all his 2nd year players to make strong progressions from last season.
“We expect all 2nd year players to make more of an impact at all positions. We pride ourselves on developing players and we want to see them all improve to contribute more to the team”
The Crusaders have qualified for the playoffs every year since Tim Fragle has been at the helm, it’s the 2nd round that hasn’t been too kind to the team, with losses to Fort McMurray and Spruce Grove the last 2 seasons respectively after 1st round victories. Fragle isn’t coming out and making predictions on what round of the playoffs his team would like to get to.
“We expect to get better as the season goes on as we do have a young team. We do however want to push to be in the mix for home ice in the 1st round.”
As mentioned, the Crusaders begin their 35th season on the road Friday night, as they begin a home and home with the Whitecourt Wolverines to kick off the AJHL’s 50th season. The following night, September 7th, the Crusaders will play their 35th home opener in franchise history.
The Crusaders went 3 and 3 last year versus the Wolverines, Fragle expects parallel type of games to last seasons record against Whitecourt.
“Whitecourt has a good core returning and we expect them to give us a very difficult matchup this weekend.”