For the first time in 10 years the Sherwood Park Crusaders and Spruce Grove Saints will faceoff in the AJHL playoffs. A lot has changed since that 3rd round series in 2003, as the Saints called St. Albert home and Sherwood Park had won the regular season title. So for the first time since the Saints relocated from St. Albert, Spruce Grove will host Sherwood Park in Game 1 of the best of 7 at the Grant Fuhr Arena, Thursday night.
Spruce will enter the 2nd round of the AJHL Playoffs coming off a first round buy after finishing 1st in the North Division.
The Cru, enjoyed a few days of well deserved rest after wrapping up their 1st round series in 4 games over the Grande Prairie Storm last Saturday night. Crusader Head Coach Tim Fragle certainly agrees.
“It was good to get GP series done in 4 games to eliminate travel and get a few days rest between series.”
Part of the reason the Crusaders were able to get through the Storm was the play of the line of Sean MacTavish, Eric Liknes and Ryan Luiten.
“[Sean] has shown us and his teammates another level in his game. He has good chemistry with Liknes and Luiten.” Fragle said.
MacTavish leads the Cru with 3 goals and 4 points this post season. The Cru coach also praises Luiten for his play, the Alaskan native was acquired from Dauphin of the MJHL for Dayton Reinboldt earlier in the year and was also apart of the defending AJHL Champion Brooks Bandits last season.
“He has been a leader in all areas and definitely has raised his level of play in the playoffs.”
The Cru relied a lot on the MacTavish, Liknes, Luiten line with help from veterans Danny Smith and Dillon Massie. Stefan Bazar, who had the game winner in game 4 versus the Storm, leads the way for his line that includes Garth Wallin and Andrew Taverner. The top dogs for the Cru all season have been quite in the post season combining for 1 goal but Fragle feels the scoring will come.
“This line will come around. They are getting the chances and that's all you can ask for. We will worry when the chances stop.”
The Cru are 4 for 26 in the post season on the power play and only allowed 2 goals against short handed. Special teams is always a key in any series, but Fragle doesn’t rely solely on that being the make or break of his teams chances against the Saints.
“Special Teams and Goaltending are always big in any series. We won both in round 1 although Kulmanovsky was outstanding, Tomkins won and that's all that matters.”
Fagle’s netminder has a 2.25 goals against average and a .933 save percentage this post season. Tomkins will come into this series with a playoff career of 7 wins and 7 losses, 1 shutout, 3.16 goals against average and a.907 save percentage.
The Saints won the season series 4 games to 2 with all of them being very close, Sherwood Park even came out with a 3-0 win at the Grant Fuhr Arena on February 1st.
“All games were close and we expect much of the same. They have great structure and strong back end. We have to play to our strengths.” Fragle spoke of his opponents.
The Saints were lead offensively by Penn State commit Dylan Richard with 42 points and Defenseman Dustin Fostvelt, who was 4th in scoring among AJHL Defensemen with 37 points.
As in the first round with, AJHL Goaltender of The Year, Nick Kulmanovsky , the series has a potential to be a goaltender duel with the Crusaders Tomkins and the Saints Kenny Cameron. Both goaltenders were tied for 2nd in the league with 4 shutouts.
There is another interesting story line in this series pertaining to coach Fragle and his opposites. Both Saints coaches Jason McKee and Mike Ringrose, a former Crusader, along with Fragle are staff at the Vimy Ridge Hockey Academy in Edmonton. Whether or not there is a side bet, it will be an interesting 10 days at the campus located in south Edmonton.
“Players and coaches are very familiar with each other. We know the Saints have been the strongest program in our league over the past 7 seasons.” Fragle spoke of the match up.
The Cru will be looking for there first trip to the 3rd round since falling to the Saints back in 2003 and their first series victory against the Saints franchise since 1995.
Below is a breakdown of the series, for tickets to the Crusader Home Games, please call 780-417-1175.
Spruce Grove Saints (1) vs. Sherwood Park Crusaders (4)
Game 1 March 14, 2013 @ Spruce Grove 7:00 PM
Game 2 March 15, 2013 @ Spruce Grove 7:00 PM
Game 3 March 17, 2013 @ Sherwood Park 7:00 PM
Game 4 March 18, 2013 @ Sherwood Park 7:00 PM
Game 5 March 20, 2013 @ Spruce Grove 7:00 PM*
Game 6 March 22, 2013 @ Sherwood Park 7:00 PM*
Game 7 March 24, 2013 @ Spruce Grove 7:00 PM*
* if necessary