Crusaders are over and out

Tim Fragle looked rocked.

The head coach and GM of the Sherwood Park Crusaders wasn’t alone either.

The entire team looked very down in the mouth on Friday night at the Sherwood Park Arena as a 4-0 loss to the Spruce Grove Saints ended the Cru’s season with a 4-1 second round playoff series victory.

The Crusaders got off to a terrific start in the Alberta Junior Hockey League playoffs, as they knocked out the second-ranked Grande Prairie Storm (35-21-4) with a 3-1 win in their opening round series, despite the Park’s status as the seventh seed with a record of 28-25-7.

It looked like there might be a chance at another huge upset as they started their best-of-seven second round series with the North Division champion Saints (35-16-9).

The Crusaders captured Game 1 by a 3-2 score, but the Saints woke up from their first-round bye slumber for the next three match-ups, winning 3-1, a 9-1 shocker and a 6-5 in double overtime game to take a hammerlock on the series.

The Sherwood side battled back to extend the series with a 2-1 win in the Grove last Wednesday, but were unable to force a seventh-and-deciding game as they fell behind 2-0 on Friday and allowed an empty netter and another late goal as they were pressing to get back into it, making the 4-0 score seem far worse than it was.

Fragle said his team gave it their all in Game 6.

“The effort was certainly there,” he said.

“We didn’t get a lot of bounces. The Saints played hard. They are a good team. Overall, we are happy with the effort and happy that we pushed them to six games. It still leaves you wanting more, though, because we were close.

“Outside of the one lopsided game, every other one was close and could have gone either way. We’re proud of them and happy that they got to wear the Crusaders jersey.

“We played them hard all series and I think we know how to beat them, but tonight it didn’t seem like we had our legs,” said Crusaders assistant captain Danny Smith. “We didn’t get many bounces. In the third period we were all over them and couldn’t seem to get one in. As the seventh-seed, we took out the second seed from Grande Prairie. That got us the top seed and we just wanted to give them a good series and see how it went. Unfortunately we just came up a little short.”

Fragle felt his team could have gone much deeper in the playoffs had they been even a couple of games better in the regular season.

“We were so decimated with injuries this season,” he said. “If we could have had a little bit better of a regular season, we wouldn’t have had to play these guys in the second round. That might have changed our fortunes a bit. We believe that we were the second-best team in the North. If we had had two or three more wins we probably wouldn’t have played the Saints when we did, we would have been playing them in the finals. But that’s not the way it worked. We had to play better through injuries in the regular season and we didn’t. We had higher expectations for this year.”

There will be a fair amount of turnover for next season as 11 players will be moving on.

“We have some great 20-year-olds leaving us; six of them,” Fragle said. “We also have five other players leaving on college scholarships. We have a good crew of guys that are leaving, and we are proud that they were part of our program.”

Among those leaving on college scholarships are goaltender Matt Tomkins (Ohio State) and Smith, who will be attending the Rochester Institute of Technology.

“I had so many good memories here,” Smith said. “I spent three years here, and they were a great three years. The organization has come so far since I first got here. It’s totally different. It’s hard to describe how I feel about it right now. I’m sure I’ll be looking back at it all a lot in the next week or two.”

The Saints advanced to face the Whitecourt Wolverines in the AJHL’s third round semifinals.

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