It was an emotional start to what will surely be an emotional series between the Sherwood Park Crusaders and Bonnyville Pontiacs Thursday night at the Sherwood Park Arena. Game 1 between the 2 rivals was full of ups and downs and really could have gone either way.
The Bonnyville Pontiacs played an excellent road period that included the games opening goal from Jackson Dudley and a late go ahead goal from their regular season leading scorer Spencer Foo. Captain Dillon Massie scored the lone goal for the Crusaders in the opening period.
“We weren’t good in the 1st period.” Said Crusaders GM and Head Coach Tim Fragle.
Things did not look good for the Crusaders in the 2nd period either when the Pontiacs went up 3-1 with just over 7 minutes left.
“We had a slow start in the 1st, they came out with a lot of energy but I thought we showed a lot of character tonight. Lots of guys had very strong games that kept us in it.” Says Crusader Forward Andrew Taverner who had 3 points on the night.
That character had to reveal itself twice in Thursday nights game, once the Crusaders were down 3-1, there was the feeling that this game quite possibly be out of reach for the Crusaders. Sherwood Park however, was able to cut into that lead, tie the game at 3 and pull ahead by periods end. Goals from Defenseman Ben Sowa, Nicholas Jones and the go ahead goal from Marshall Donald in a span of 2 and a half minutes gave the Cru a 4-3 lead going into the 3rd period.
“We carried the play in the 2nd period and started to get more physical, which helped.” Fragle added.
Things looked alright for the Crusaders going into the final 20 minutes, but hockey is a 60 minute game and the Pontiacs did not lie down and quit.
Pontiacs Head Coach Rick Swan shook things up by pulling starting Goaltender Stephen Klein and replaced him with Josh Erickson to start the 3rd.
The move inspired the team.
Bonnyville was able to tie things up under 2 minutes into the period with a goal from Thomas Cunningham who beat Tommy Nixon over the right shoulder coming down the left wing side.
The Crusaders thought they had regained a little momentum by heading on a Power Play, looking to convert on the Man Advantage for the 2nd time in the game. Unfortunately, the Pontiacs had other ideas. All game, Bonnyville had been very opportunistic when blocking shots or stealing pucks off the Crusaders sticks and turning those into shorthanded breakaways.
Pontiacs Defenseman Ryan Black was able to get a shorthanded breakaway on the aforementioned Crusader Power Play, he was chased by Marshall Donald who knocked Black down before he was about to shoot.
A Penalty Shot was called.
Black had a chance to give his Pontiacs yet another lead and the rookie Defenseman capitalized to give his team a 5-4 lead. After Black had scored he skated past the Crusaders bench with one are in the air as if he was holding the Olympic torch.
This seemed to agitate the Crusaders bench. And their emotions got the best of them, specifically Nicholas Jones.
The Crusaders leading scorer proceeded onto the ice on a line change but skated towards the Pontiacs bench and had a few words for Black. Jones was assessed a 10 minute misconduct for his behavior. The very same shift, both Andrew Taverner and Sean Mactavish took penalties. Taverner 2 minutes for tripping while MacTavish took another 10 minute misconduct.
In the middle part of the 3rd period, the Crusaders had their top 3 scorers from the regular season in the penalty box.
Sherwood Park was able to grind out that portion of the period without any imminent danger. Part of that was because of the depth and character on the Crusaders roster, something that Andrew Taverner eluded to and depth is an area Fragle has marked as a key to this series.
“Losing Sean and Nicholas for 10 wasn’t good, but our bench stepped up.” Fragle said.
Time wasn’t on the Crusaders side once MacTavish and Jones returned from the misconducts, however, Fragle feels his team’s play in that latter half of the 3rd set them up to tie things up at in the final minutes.
“I thought we wore them down in the last 10 minutes and that set up a big goal by Phaneuf to tie it.” Says Fragle.
Phaneuf’s goal came at 1:13 remaining in the 3rd with 6 attackers on for the Crusaders. The goal came off of a faceoff win after Fragle had called a timeout.
The Pontiacs were able to get a couple of shots towards Tommy Nixon before regulation time had expired.
Heading into the Post Season, the Crusaders had only been to Overtime 4 times this season, and only 1 win in the extra period. The Pontiacs had 4 wins in overtime in the Regular Season.
The 10 minute overtime was short lived. The Crusaders had all the momentum after tying things up late in the game. The Pontiacs took a slashing penalty at 2:49 into the period at the hands of Michael Iovanna. It was only the Crusaders 4th Man Advantage of the hockey game. Andrew Taverner, who had 8 game winning goals in the regular season, was able to beat Josh Erickson off the rush on the Left Wing side going bar down over his right shoulder. 6-5 Crusaders victory.
“It was a great team win, you really could tell that it was a playoff game. Tough, really fast, just happy we took the win in game 1.” Said Taverner.
The Crusaders picked up the 1-0 series lead in the Best of 5 North Division Quarter Final and will look to take a strangle hold in the series Friday night at the Sherwood Park Arena before the teams shift to Bonnyville for Sunday’s Game 3.
For tickets to Game 2, please call 780-417-1175 or arrive early at the Sherwood Park Arena to purchase tickets at the door. Puck drop is 7:00 PM