Crusaders At The Half
As we enter the final 3 months of the Regular Season, the Sherwood Park Crusaders have played the most games in the Alberta Junior Hockey League in 2014-15 with 34. Sitting with a record of 18-13-3 they are entrenched in a battle for 2nd place in the Viterra North Division with Lloydminster and continuously trying to distance themselves from the rest of the pack, Sherwood Park has set themselves up nicely heading into the 2nd half of the Regular Season.
The team has erased any doubt of where offense would come from after Defenseman Dane Phaneuf was the highest scoring returning player from the 2013-14 season. The team has seen a well balanced point production throughout the Forward lineup. Veterans like Arthur Gordon, Ryan Kruper have flourished in their roles as Top 6 Forwards. Both have surpassed or matched their point totals from last season.
“I think our team has taken some major strides in the right direction. As we move into the 2nd half we need to be more consistent and playing the same way at the same intensity level night in and night out.” Says Kruper, who has 10 goals on the season and has developed into one of the best Centers in the league.
2nd year players such as Cameron Brezinski have excelled and become impactful players on a night to night basis.
“We’ve improved every game since the start of the season. We’ve won close games and gained points against some of the leagues top teams. I’ve been happy with my play in the 1st half of the season, but I’m still not completely satisfied.” Brezinski says.
“I have struggled with consistency in regards to offense. I need to focus on being a more consistent player all around.” Added Brezinski, who is his toughest critic as the Edmonton, Alberta native leads the Crusaders with 13 goals.
One of the brightest spots on the team so far has been the play of the rookies.
“They have all developed quickly and are all important to our team.” Notes Crusaders GM and Head Coach Tim Fragle.
The one rookie that sticks out the most is Cole Gammer. Tied for 2nd on the team in scoring with 20 Points, the ’97 born Forward is getting a lot of looks at key times in games this season and has 2 Game Winning Goals to boot.
“We’ve made ourselves known as a team who can compete on a consistent level and we need to keep things rolling into the 2nd half. I think that I’ve played well over the 1st half but I think I can work to bring a more consistent game.” Says Gammer.
The Canadian Athletic Club product is 5th in rookie scoring and 4th in goals with 9.
The Crusaders have been in many tight games this year, and coming out of them on top. Part of the reason for that success has been the play of the Goaltenders. Both Tommy Nixon and Zac Klassen have seen equal time and have respectable numbers with Save Percentages above 900 and Goals Against Averages under 3. Nixon is in the top 5 in the AJHL in Wins, Goals Against Average, Save Percentage and is also tied for 2nd in Shutouts with 3.
“I feel like every time I’m in the net I’m giving the boys a chance to win. Over the past few years, I’ve been striving for consistency. This year I feel I’m starting to show the fruits of my labour.” Nixon says.
It’s fair to say, the group in on the same wavelength. The willingness to be more consistent in the team’s play is in the mindset of this Crusader team.
“We are in the mix just as we expected but we have let 2 or 3 games get away which could make a big difference in separating us from the pack. I’ll be looking for better results on the road and being more consistent night to night in the 2nd half.” Says Fragle who will be away from the team till the new year as he is one of the Assistant Coaches for Team Canada West at the upcoming World Junior A Challenge in Kindersley, Saskatchewan.
3 Crusaders (F Cole Gammer, D Brett Magee, G Tommy Nixon) will be vying for spots on that team starting December 7th in Calgary.
Associate Coach Scott McNeil will assume the Head Coaching duties and Taylor McReynolds will have an amped up role in his Assistant Coaching duties.
The Crusaders are 7-9-2 on the road so far through 34 games. Thankfully the road records for the teams below the Crusaders in the standings aren’t better. Other than Spruce Grove North Division teams have struggled on the road with 1 team being over 500 (Bonnyville). If the Crusaders are to ensure a good spot in the standings come seasons end.
Sherwood Park has 26 more games in the Regular Season, beginning with the Calgary Canucks at home Friday December 5th.
-Story By Taylor Medak