It is a pivotal series of religious proportions as the Sherwood Park Crusaders take on the Spruce Grove Saints in the second round series of the Alberta Junior Hockey League playoffs.
The Saints won the regular season series match-up with four wins out of the six times the teams faced each other. The series total of 4-2 seems like a one-sided number, but when you add up the goals, the Saints only have one more against the Cru at 17-16. The Cru are looking at all possible positives as they come into the series.
“We don’t have any long-term injuries,” said Crusaders head coach Tim Fragle. “We have a few guys that are nicked up, but it looks like we are going to have a full roster available. We do have one player that is up with the WHL.”
The Cru will however be without forward Fraser Bulbuc, as he has been summoned to the Western Hockey League’s Tri-City Americans due to them being bit by the injury bug. Bulbuc has a lone goal in five contests on behalf of the Americans, but should be back by Saturday according to the Cru coach.
Fragle also believes that he will need everyone on board for the long haul if the seventh-seeded Cru hope to vanquish the first-in-the-North-Division Saints.
“If we are going to win this series, it is going to have a to be a long series,” Fragle said. “We’ll have to be prepared for that. They are a team that has been the best team in our league for the past six or seven years, and they play with so much structure that they are not going to give you anything.
“We are going to have to take it game by game and be prepared for some ups and some downs in the series. We are playing a good team who are going to put us on our heels and we are hoping to put them on their heels as well. We are locked in for, hopefully, a long series.”
As for the Saints being rusty after their first-round bye, Fragle sees both sides of the story.
“You’ve seen a lot of cases where the bye either hurts or helps a team,” he said. “The one thing I would say that Spruce Grove has in their advantage is that they have had the first-round bye for six consecutive years, so this isn’t new to them. They’ve been through it, they’ve probably prepared and got better each year at preparing after the bye.
“I still believe that with 16 or 17 days off, if we can get after them early, we can put a little bit of doubt in their minds because it takes a bit to get your timing back. We are hoping we can go in there and have some early series success.”
Game 1 is Thursday, March 14 in Spruce Grove, past press time, with Game 2 the next night in Spruce Grove at 7 p.m. The series shifts to Sherwood Park for Game 3 on Sunday, March 17 at 7 p.m. and Game 4 the next night at 7 p.m., with both games at the Arena.