Crusaders Battle South Division Foes

The Sherwood Park Crusaders are looking to build off a momentous 4-3 win from Tuesday night in Lloydminster as they head into this weekends action with two games starting with the Calgary Canucks Friday night.

“We played well the first 40 minutes on Tuesday, solid and smart hockey.  3rd period they took it to us but we were able to hold on for the win. Big penalty kill near end of game and held off their six on five attack.“  Says Crusaders Associate Coach Scott McNeill.

McNeill will manning the Head Coaching duties for the Crusaders till the Christmas Break as GM and Head Coach Tim Fragle is off to represent Team Canada West at the upcoming World Junior A Challenge in Kindersley, Saskatchewan.

“The routine doesn't change. Trying to keep everything status quo as it was when Tim was here.”  Adds McNeill when asked if anything changes with him at the helm.

The team is hoping that three other Crusader players will join Coach Fragle in Kindersley as the Selection Camp begins in Calgary on Sunday.  Forward Cole Gammer, Defenseman Brett Magee and Goaltender Tommy Nixon are available for Friday night’s game, but with Magee and Nixon near the end of recovery from injury the Crusaders may elect to give those two continued rest in preparation for camp on Sunday.

As for Friday night’s game, it marks the second and final meeting of the season between two of the longest standing franchises in the AJHL.  The Canucks took the first meeting 5-4 on October 5th in Calgary.

“We didn't have a great start to the game.  We weren't very good through the first 40 minutes. They came out ready to play. We had a very good 3rd period in an attempt to mount a comeback but by that point it was too late.”  McNeill recaps.

The comeback effort marked another occasion where the Crusaders scored in bunches, three goals in under two minutes.

“We need to take care of the details and execution shift by shift and play with a high compete level and high enthusiasm.”  Says McNeill on the keys to Friday’s game.

The Crusaders will enter Friday’s game sitting tied for second place in the Viterra North Division with 18 wins and 39 Points.  The Canucks come into the weekend sitting in the final playoff spot in the Viterra South Division with 10 wins and 24 Points.  The Canucks also have the worst road record in the AJHL at 2-8-3.  Veteran and Captain Trent Geiger leads the team with 25 Points.

The Crusaders second matchup this weekend will be Sunday afternoon as the Canmore Eagles make their only visit to the Sherwood Park Arena this year.  The first meeting between the two clubs came on the same road trip the Crusaders faced the Canucks.  It’s been a while since the Crusaders have seen the Eagles who are the fifth highest scoring team in the AJHL heading into the weekend, and also possess the leagues top Power Play, led by Connor Wilson with five goals on the Man Advantage this season.

“I expect a tough physical game with a quick pace. They have skill up front, on the back end and can score on opportunities, so we have to be solid defensively. Top Power Play in league as well so Special Teams will be key.”  Says McNeill on going up against the Eagles.

Sunday’s Special Team battle should be interesting, as mentioned the Eagles with the top Power Play in the AJHL while the Crusaders, fifth in the league on the Penalty Kill but first on home ice at 90.6% heading into Friday’s game.

The Crusaders will have one more game on a three game home stand, Wednesday versus Bonnyville, before heading on the road for four straight games spread over 2 weeks to wrap up the calendar year.

-Story By Taylor Medak