Crusaders @ Grande Prairie Storm – Friday September 11th & Saturday September 12th 7:30 PM
Media: AJHL Web TV
The Sherwood Park Crusaders are picking up where they left off last Regular Season, on the road in Grande Prairie. Friday night marks the first of two games in Grande Prairie to begin the 37th season for the Crusaders in Sherwood Park and a season that has a lot of optimism, as any year should have, going into it.
Sherwood Park returns 16 players from last year’s team that finished the 2014-15 Regular Season in Grande Prairie. The Crusaders have a lot of depth and experience in every position and have a bulk of youngsters that are starting the season with the team pushing for spots.
“That’s what you want, you want internal competition and we have that with a mixture of young guys pushing each other.” Says Crusaders GM and Head Coach Tim Fragle.
“The youthful enthusiasm that first year players bring to your lineup can never be overlooked.”
Fragle enters his sixth season at the helm for the Crusaders, a team that has all the tools to contend in the CJHL’s toughest division, the AJHL’s Viterra North.
“All our nights are difficult, so there’s not going to be an easy night…we want to practice hard everyday, so that we get better as the year goes on and we can play our best when it matters most.” Adds Fragle.
The Crusaders will be striving for consistency throughout the year as they dealt with struggle in the winter months causing them to drop to fifth in the division when it was all said and done.
One of the key elements in playing consistent is having a group that is familiar with each other, as stated, Sherwood Park returns 16 players off of their roster from last season. It’s fair to say the 2015-16 Crusaders are familiar with one another.
“I really like our chemistry.” Notes third year Crusader, Defenseman Brett Magee.
“I’m a big believer in that teams that go the furthest, are the best ‘teams’ in the sense they are the most tight knit group…I love our depth throughout our lineup, we have the ability to roll four lines and three [Defensive] pairings and both Goalies on any given night.”
During the week leading up to Friday’s game Magee was appointed the Captaincy by the Crusaders Coaching staff. It marks the second year in a row a Crusaders Defenseman was named Captain to begin the regular season.
“We feel like he’s a good fit and very deserving, the coaching staff had a tough decision with many candidates that are viable for that position.” Said Fragle on the appointment of Magee to Captain.
“It’s just a surreal feeling and a tremendous honor. I’d like to think that I’m someone who can lead by example and be known for never taking a shift off. I wand to create a positive atmosphere and be someone that says things that need to be heard rather than the things the team wants to hear.” Notes Magee on being named Captain.
Along with Captain Magee, Forwards Ryan Kruper, Devon McAndrews and Defenseman Ben Sowa have been named Assistant Captains.
Heading into Friday’s game in Grande Prairie against the Storm, the Crusaders still have a lot of decisions to be made on who they will carry this season on their roster. Sherwood Park is starting 2015-16 with 26 players, 16 Forwards, 8 Defenseman and 2 Goalies. The Crusaders will need to be down to 23 players by January 10th.
The Forward group will be lead Offensively by the likes of Ryan Kruper, Tyler Maltby, Cole Gammer (who is injured to start 15/16) Brett Van Os, Tanner Laderoute, Cameron Brezinski and newcomer Devon McAndrews. Veterans such as Reid Bosse, Bryar Ortynski, Luke Kempf and former Prince Albert Raider, Darcy Zaharichuk will solidify the bottom six. Plus Rookies such as Ty Readman will be pushing for ice time.
Captain Brett Magee leads a Crusader Defensive core that should gain notoriety as the one of the top core’s in the AJHL with returnees Ben Sowa, Chase Torontow, Evan Bowden, Chris McKay and Ben McLeod. Rookies Cory Babichuk and Koletrain Wilson will push for playing time and could possibly stick with Sherwood Park past the October Midget player roster cut deadline.
The Crusaders will once again have strength in net. Goaltender Zac Klassen returns to the crease with the second most amount of AJHL games played amongst goalies in the league. Klassen will be looking to build off a season where he saw more action, due Tommy Nixon’s injury woes, than was expected plus winning his first ever AJHL Playoff series.
Backing up Klassen to start the year will be Lloydminster Native Austin McGrath who has played with the Lloydminster Midget AAA Bobcats of the Alberta Midget Hocket League for the past two seasons.
Klassen will start Friday to open the Regular Season against Grande Prairie.
As for the Storm, 2015-2016 will be the year they look to end a playoff drought. It has been over two years since the Storm last played in the AJHL playoffs. They will provide good competition for the Crusaders as they return a boat load of players ready to take their team back to the Post Season.
“We don’t know too much about them, we played them in the Pre Season which was a high scoring affair that neither coach would’ve liked, you know they are going to be improved from last year so we need to be prepared for that. It’s their home opener as well so you know they will be up for that and we will need to take it one game at a time.” Says Fragle on playing the Storm back to back nights.
The Crusaders will have six days before their next game after Saturday in Grande Prairie. On Friday September 18th, they will welcome the Fort McMurray Oil Barons for the first time since eliminating them in the Gas Drive Cup Playoffs last year in four games.
-Story By Taylor Medak