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Crusaders Begin February Against Thunder

The Sherwood Park Crusaders will look to build off a good finish to a month that was almost to be forgotten as they begin the final month of play in the 2014-15 Regular Season Wednesday night when they host Drayton Valley.  Having gone 4-4-3 in the month of January and nearing the edge of missing out on Home Ice in the Gas Drive Cup Playoffs, points in five straight games have gotten the Crusaders right back in the mix and within striking distance of third place Fort McMurray.

The Crusaders are coming off a big win Saturday to wrap up January with a 5-0 shutout over the Fort McMurray Oil Barons.  It marked the second shutout of the season for the Crusaders against the Oil Barons on Home Ice.  Goaltender Zac Klassen was stellar in picking up his second career shutout.  Klassen stopped 49 of 50 shots faced last weekend and was 1:13 away from having two shutouts on the weekend when Grande Prairie tied their Firday game against the Crusaders late in the third period.

“I wasn’t rattled at all, I don’t think the boys were rattled either.  I thought we deserved to win and we went in the shootout and did.”  Says Klassen on allowing a late goal Friday.

“[Zac] was solid, he was in control of his movement and rebounds.”  Says Crusaders and GM Head Coach Tim Fragle.

“[Fort McMurray] has two really good lines of offensive players.  I had to be sharp but not put too much pressure on myself and go out there and have fun, and that’s what I did.”  Added Klassen on the shutout victory over the Oil Barons.

All season long the coaching staff has preached consistency, and when the Crusaders have been able to stay consistent in their play, results have shown.

“We played as close to a 60 minutes effort as we have all year.”  Fragle mentioned on the win over Fort McMurray.

Although the score was 5-0, the Crusaders did not pull away until late, scoring three goals in the final eight minutes.

“It was still only 2-0 going into the third so it still was tight and because they have an offensive team we were never comfortable.”  Added Fragle.

That mentality of never being comfortable will need to carry over into Wednesday’s game because of the games previously played against Drayton Valley this year.  On two occasions, both teams have shutouts against one another, but when both teams have scored, one of them has mounted a comeback to force Overtime.

On October 23rd in Drayton Valley the Crusaders found themselves down 3-0 late in the third period but were able to score three goals in a 1:22 and eventually won in a shootout.  On December 18th, it was the Thunder who were down by two goals late in the game and were able to score two goals in under a minute with 90 seconds to play, the Crusaders eventually won in a Shootout, 4-3.

For the Thunder, they have played well of late with only one regulation loss in their last six games.  They too are coming off a victory over the Fort McMurray Oil Barons 2-1 in Overtime this past Sunday and have all but locked up the final playoff spot in the Viterra North Division.  The Thunder sit  eight points ahead of the Grande Prairie Storm with 12 games remaining and are only two points behind the Whitecourt Wolverines for sixth spot in the division.

“Lately they’ve been outshooting a lot of teams, so I expect them to be crashing the net hard.  They are a pretty gritty team, it’s definitely not going to be easy for me or my teammates.”  Said Klassen on going up against the Thunder.

In the current streak of one regulation loss in their last six games, Drayton Valley has outshot their opponent 208 to 167 and averaging just under 35 shots per game.

Coach Fragle expects another tight game and feels the fifth meeting of the season can go either way.

“In the games we’ve played, two were shootouts and the other was a one nothing loss. Every shift and bounce counts.”

The Crusaders largest victory over the Thunder came on September 19th when they picked up a 3-0 victory in Drayton Valley.

Wednesday’s game is the only game this week for the Crusaders, we should expect one of the best efforts of the season as the players will be expected to leave everything on the ice and be able to rest and recuperate for next week.

The Crusaders sit in a tie for fourth spot in the Viterra North Division with the Bonnyville Pontiacs with 55 points.  Both teams are two points behind Fort McMurray for third spot in the Division.  Unfortunately the Pontiacs are in Fort McMurray tonight to take on the Oil Barons.  The Crusaders will hope those teams avoid extra time.  The old adage of “six of one, half a dozen of the other” comes into play for that game.  It really doesn’t matter who wins just as long as the teams avoid extra time.  What does matter on Wednesday night is the Crusaders needing to pick up two valuable points.

-Story By Taylor Medak