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Crusaders Battle South at Showcase

Crusaders VS Olds Grizzlys – AJHL Showcase in Camrose – Friday October 2nd, 2015 – 1:00 PM

Crusaders VS Canmore Eagles – AJHL Showcase in Camrose – Saturday October 3rd, 2015 – 3:30 PM

The first month of the 2015-16 AJHL Regular Season is complete and the Sherwood Park Crusaders have put themselves in a decent position with a record of 5-2, good for third place in the Viterra North Division.  Now as October begins the Crusaders start the month with a pair of neutral site games against two teams from the Viterra South Division at the 2015 AJHL Showcase in Camrose, the Olds Grizzlys on Friday afternoon and the Canmore Eagles Saturday afternoon.

When the weekend is all said and done the Crusaders will have played opponents from the south in three straight games.  The most recent win, coming last Sunday against the Calgary Mustangs, a 10-4 thumping after the Crusaders had lost their first two games of the season as the hands of Llodyminster (5-1) and Spruce Grove (4-2) last week.

“We were just okay for 40 minutes but the final 20 cost us. We missed on a few chances and they scored on theirs as well as I felt we were undisciplined in the third period.”  Says Crusaders GM and Head Coach Tim Fragle.

There was lots of optimism heading into last week, at the time the Crusaders headed into the game against the Bobcats undefeated and the team was playing with a lot of confidence but ultimately came up short against Lloydminster.

Then came Saturday.

A chance for a little bit of redemption on the organization that has eliminated the Crusaders in the Post Season three years in a row, the Spruce Grove Saints.

All in all an entertaining game from a fans side but a missed opportunity in the eyes of Fragle.

“It was a good game for 40 minutes, once again, but we made a few mistakes in the third period that ended up in our net and again, we didn’t execute on our chances in the 3rd.”

An early test last week for the Crusaders, who want to be at the top of the Viterra North Division and in the conversation with Spruce Grove and Lloydminster, didn’t go as planned but are drawing from the experience.

“It was a good learning experience for our club facing two division opponents, we didn’t play at the level I believe we are capable however.”  Says Crusaders Captain Brett Magee.

The Saints and Bobcats have set a level for what it will take to compete at the top of the division for the Crusaders.

“The bar is consistency.   If we play our game for 60 minutes we can be in the conversation with those teams.”  Says Fragle.

The Crusaders certainly responded somewhat by putting up 10 goals against the Calgary Mustangs on Sunday afternoon.  Sunday’s win marked the fourth time the Crusaders have scored five or more goals in a hockey game.

“We’ve we always want to get a good start at home and we were able to execute with some good scoring habits, those need to continue.”  Adds Fragle.

Even though the Crusaders got the victory and in a rout mind you, they’re still not good with being good enough.

“I like how we responded in the game against the Mustangs even though we are not happy with giving up for goals to them.”  Notes Magee.

It’s that mindset that has been instilled in the players heads by the coaching staff that if the team wants to succeed, it’s the attention to details that needs to be worked on.

What will need to be tighten up for the Crusaders going forward is the Penalty Kill.  All four goals against on Sunday versus the Mustangs came a man down for Sherwood Park, the Crusaders were 65% on the PK last week, a number that just doesn’t cut it in the game of hockey.

If the Crusaders can shore up those areas and continue the offense, they should have a successful weekend in Camrose.

One player hoping to continue the offense is Forward Darcy Zaharichuk.  The Sherwood Park Native has fit in nicely with the Crusaders after spending time with the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders the last few seasons scored five points in the victory over the Mustangs.

“I didn’t have the best game against the Saints, I wanted to come out [Sunday] and play a lot better.  Our line was clicking with Kruper and Rotundo, we had a really good start scoring first.”  Says Zarahichuk.

For the players, it’s a weekend that can provide a mental challenge playing in front of a few scouts than they usually do.  It’s expected that every NHL team will have a presence plus all 60 division one NCAA schools will be represented in Camrose this weekend.

“The best way for an individual not to get caught up in the hype is to play the team game, it never works to play as an individual at this level.”  Says Fragle on what will be his message to his players on dealing with the extra eyes.

Captain Brett Magee knows it’s a big weekend as he is in search of a scholarship, but the Defenseman echoes what the coach will be preaching.

“Our approach going into the games against Olds and Canmore cannot differ from what it would be for any other game, even if it’s the showcase in front of all the scouts.” Notes Magee.

Not only is there representation from schools in the United Sates but in Canada as well.  Institutions from the CIS and ACAC (Schools such as the U of A and NAIT) will be looking for potential recruits as well.  With his latest offensive success, Zaharichuk will also be looking to catch the eyes of the CIS as he is ineligible for NCAA because of time spent in the WHL.

“You can’t take a shift off, you never know who’s watching or when they are watching.  We got to take these two games as normal games and hopefully come out on top, scouts like winning.”  Notes Zaharichuk.

Sherwood Park split both series last year with Olds and Canmore with the Home team winning every game.  The Grizzlys sit last in the Viterra South Division with only two wins, however they’ve only played seven games.

“Our start Friday is important and we need to be sticking to our game, we are expecting a physical test from them.”  Says Fragle going up against Olds.

Saturday the Crusaders will once again have a afternoon affair as they take on the Canmore Eagles.  A team that can play a high tempo game has the third most goals for amongst teams from the Viterra South Division (27) heading into the weekend, the Crusaders will have quite the task on their hands come Saturday as well.

“Playing with Team structure will be key.  We need to manage pucks and stick to our game plan.”  Says Fragle on the keys to playing Canmore.

It should be an interesting weekend with lots of hockey in Camrose as the AJHL Showcase comes to the rose city after being in Spruce Grove for many years.  The Crusaders will go back to the past a bit as they will play Olds in the Max Maclean Arena, the former home of the Koidaks.  Sherwood Park will battle the Eagles Saturday, in which has to be one of, if not the nicest facilities in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, the Encana Arena, now the current home of the Kodiaks.

The Encana arena hasn’t been too friendly for the Crusaders when they’ve played Camrose in the regular season, but here’s hoping a few new opponents in that market can spell victories for Sherwood Park and keep pace with Lloydminster and Spruce Grove.

Players To Watch: For Sherwood Park obviously the team is hoping Darcy Zaharichuk can continue the offensive success.  Forwards Tyler Maltby and Ryan Kruper remain red hot with Maltby at the top of the league lead in goals scored (7) and Kruper in the mix for the league lead in points (12)…For Olds rookie Chase Olsen leads the team with 9 Points including a four game goal streak, 20 year old Landon Kletke has a solid 7 Points in 7 Games…For the Eagles, veterans Lane Olson and Brett Radford have 8 and 7 Points respectively, Goaltender Ryan Gilchrist was named AJHL Goaltender of The Week two of the season.

-Story By Taylor Medak