The Crusaders were back in the comfy confines of the Sherwood Park Arena last weekend, and it proved to be just what the team needed to get back to their winning ways after hitting a rough patch to kick off 2019.
It hasn't been the kindest start to the year for the Crusaders; despite their second-place standing in the Viterra North Division, the squad had accumulated a 6-5 record through the first month of 2019. However, the Crusaders were tasked with facing a Grande Prairie Storm team which they held a 4-0 record against entering Friday's action and outscored 23-5.
From the opening puck drop of Friday's game, it was all Crusaders. Exactly four minutes into the first period, Crusaders defenceman Brennan McDonnell scored his first goal of the season to give the Crusaders a 1-0 lead. It was a lead the Crusaders would never relinquish throughout the game; however, it was certainly one they would extend. Prior to the end of the 1st period, Jack Hamly would bookend a William Zapernick powerplay goal with two tallies of his own, sending the Crusaders to the break with a 4-0 lead.
While the Crusaders continued their stellar play following the intermission, the Grande Praire Storm seemed to come alive at the break. Despite receiving goals from Zach Kaiser (15) and Tanner Fincaryk (7), the Storm were able to bounce back with three goals of their own after the Crusaders made a number of trips to the penalty box. Following a back-and-forth second period, the Crusaders still found themselves in the lead; however, the deficit had been cut by one with the Cru holding a 6-3 entering the third.
The third period was a hard-fought battle between the two teams. Neither team was willing to give the other an inch until the 8:04 mark, as Storm forward Zach Okabe scored his second goal of the game to cut the Crusaders lead to two. However, it was as close as it would get for Grande Prairie, as Cater Savoie and William Zapernick both picked up tallies in the period. Of note, Savoie's goal was his fifth point of the game, tying a career high for the Crusaders rookie. Additionally. Zapernick's goal brought his total to 25 on the season, nearly doubling his total of 13 from his 2017/2018 rookie campaign. As the final buzzer sounded, the Crusaders left the ice with an 8-4 victory in tow.
Following that win on Friday night, the Crusaders hit the road for a contest versus the Drayton Valley Thunder. In their previous two meeting at the Drayton Valley Omniplex, the two North Division foes are split with the Thunder beating the Crusaders 4-3 in overtime on opening night and on there return to Drayton Valley the Crusaders dominated the Thunder beating them 8-0.
On Saturday night, it was a close contest between the two with the Crusaders edging out the Thunder in the end 4-2.
Tanner Fincaryk got the scored going midway through the first period with his eighth goal of the season and second in two nights. However, the Thunder responded shortly after from veteran forward James Orban. That soon led to an entertaining final couple of minutes to end the period. First, Carter Savoie found Michael Benning who beat Luke Lush for his seventh goal of the year and his sixth point in three games. Drayton Valley kept the pressure on Sherwood Park and would add one more before the intermission from Ty Whitford.
The Crusaders took the game over in the final forty minutes making sure they secured the two points and maintained pace with the Bonnyville Pontiacs in first place.
Brennan McDonnell on the scoresheet again for a second consecutive night. He and Brett Wieschorster led the charger which was finished off by the Auburndale, FL, native, for his fourth of the year and his first career game-winning goal. Sherwood Park then stood strong in their own end until and picked their chances well to extend their lead. That opportunity came with less than five minutes to go in the third period when Zach Kaiser gave his new team two-goal cushion.
After back-to-back-to-back victories, Sherwood Park now sits two points behind the Bonnyville Pontiacs for first in the North Division. Fans can catch them in action this Friday versus the Whitecourt Wolverines. Tickets are available here.