Sherwood Park Crusaders VS Drayton Valley Thunder – Friday September 15th, 2017 – 7:00 PM
Sherwood Park Crusaders @ Drayton Valley Thunder – Saturday September 16th, 2017 – 7:30 PM
Media: AJHL WebTV
SHERWOOD PARK, AB – A new hockey season is upon us, and with that comes optimism of a successful year. That’s certainly what the Sherwood Park Crusaders are hoping for when they kick off the 2017-18 Alberta Junior Hockey League season on Friday night against the Drayton Valley Thunder.
The club enters their second season under the leadership of General Manager Kyle Chase and Head Coach Adam Manah.
With only four players returning from last year’s opening night roster to this year’s squad, it will be a much, much different looking team in Sherwood Park on Friday evening.
“It’s been a welcoming change since last years training camp. We’ve had a lot more time having had a year under our belt, more time to develop, recruit and bring the right guys in. It definitely hasn’t let us down.” Says Crusaders Head Coach Adam Manah.
Certainly, the entire Hockey Operations staff has been getting their hands soaked when it has come to stocking the cupboards with players for the upcoming season.
And a lot of it has occurred through training camp.
Except for the acquisition of Forward Dylan Stewart in the summer, the Crusaders mostly had a lot of unloading than loading of Junior A talent. Whether it be Defenseman graduating, opting to play in different leagues to the likes of Forwards Matt Dykstra and Alex Rotundo being traded to complete deals made during the 2016-17 season, the Crusaders were left with a lot of holes heading into training camp.
Then the deals and players started rolling in.
At the start of training camp, GM Kyle Chase was able to beef up his blue line by adding veteran Defenseman Brendan Kallis. A day later, he added former Bonnyville Pontiac and Spruce Grove Saint Kole Bryks to the blue line, along with Forward Ryan Mackinnon from the Melville Millionaires.
The three have already made a tremendous impact with the team, so much that two of them will dawn letters for the Crusaders in 2017-18.
Thursday, the club announced Brendan Kallis will be the team’s captain. The 20 year old will lead the leadership group with veteran Forward Ty Readman, Brandon Wallis. Mackinnon will assume an alternate captain roll on the road, while Dylan Steward will be the home alternate.
“I am very honored to be named the captain of the Crusaders. I am excited to, along with the rest of the leadership group, to show the young talent we have how to compete day to day at the Junior A level.” Says Kallis.
The St. Albert product played his first ever game in the AJHL in 2013-14 with the Crusaders, then having stints in Drayton Valley, Lloydminster, Nipawin (SJHL) and in Grand Prairie last season before being dealt to Steinbech of the Manitoba Junior Hockey Leagues this past summer.
“Personally, I want to lead by example with my play on the ice and communication but as well as I handle myself off the ice.” Added Kallis.
Kallis will have the most AJHL experience on the blue line for the Crusaders with 79 Games played over four seasons.
“We have a good mix of Defensemen with who we brought in. We have shutdown guys with the likes of Kallis and Bryks. Aiden Yakemchuk has come in and played extremely well. You have three or four guys that can play a shutdown roll, then sprinkle in the likes of Tyler Pang, Blair Bush and Jonny Sheardown. We’re excited about the balance we have on the backend.” Points out Manah on his Defensemen.
It will be tough to replace the scoring that the Crusaders were able to get from their Defensemen last season, but certainly Sherwood Park will not be afraid to push to get offense from its back end.
The same will be said for the Forwards.
For a group that was fourth in the entire AJHL in scoring last season, one would think it would be tough to duplicate that, but with the Forwards that came to camp and ultimately made this Crusader team to open up the season.
The highest scoring player to return to the AJHL this season is Ty Readman. Tied for the team lead in scoring last year with 68 Points will certainly be the catalyst for the Crusaders offense and could push for a league scoring title. The third year Crusader is garnering lots of NCAA attention as the uncommitted Forward recently went on a fly down to Northern Michigan University.
Readman’s offensive ability has many schools chomping at the bit to add his services.
Likely to play a lot with Readman is veteran Forward Merritt Oszytko. Entering his third year with the team, the Edmonton, AB native has his sights for the NCAA as well and hopes individual plus team success will result in a deal down south.
“This year is a big one for me, being my 19 year old year. I want to help the team win and do the best can in every aspect and earn a scholarship that way.” Notes Oszytko.
The Crusaders will certainly be capable of chasing those 233 Goals they scored last season as they bring in some talented scorers from the Alberta Midget Hockey League.
Eric Blanchette, William Zapernick, Graham Blanchette and Garrett Clegg finished amongst the players tied for top ten in league scoring in Alberta’s Midget AAA league, while Eric Blanchette was tied for first with 40 Points and Garrett Clegg led the AMHL with 20 Goals.
“We feel we have four lines that can play, what with the young guys we’ve brought in, or the older players we’ve acquired to go along with who we have returning, hopefully that depth can provide some of the scoring like we had last year.” Said Manah.
It was a competitive camp all around and especially in Goal as the Crusaders will start 2017-18 with three Goalies on their roster.
Brandon Vogel returns after his stint under affiliate status during the tail end of last season and in the first round of the playoffs. Sought after recruit Sam Burford from Calgary is in the mix, as well as 16 year old Carter Gylander from Leduc, AB.
“We’ve had some tough decisions to make, up front, on the back end or between the pipes. You have to give Carter a lot of credit, he returned to us from the [Edmonton] Oil Kings camp and played extremely well and made our decisions tough. We are a team where you have to earn your spot.” Notes Manah.
“It’s not that anyone has played themselves out of a spot, it’s the fact that everyone has come in trying to earn those spots.” Added the Head Coach.
Friday night in Sherwood Park this young group will play their first game that counts for something and continue to battle for spots as the Crusaders open up the 2017-18 AJHL regular season with a home and home against the Drayton Valley Thunder.
“We don’t know what Drayton Valley has to offer this year so we just have to keep it simple, work hard and stick to the game plan and react as the game goes on.” Says Oszytko.
Sherwood Park went 4-1-1 against the Thunder last season, but much to Oszytko’s statement, the Crusaders don’t know too much about their opponent to start the season.
There will be some familiar faces such as Sam Anzai who was named captain this week, Forward Levi Johnson and Goaltender Joseph McLeod.
There will be new faces in the Thunder lineup as they went through a coaching change, Kyle Adams takes over for Jesse Dorrans after one season. Adams comes from the Chilliwack Chiefs of the British Columbia Hockey League.
“They’re going to be a typical Drayton Valley Thunder team, they are going to compete extremely hard, they skate well and are going to be physical. They are going to be hard to play against.” Says Manah.
The two teams will get back together Saturday night in Drayton Valley.
This weekend will certainly be a good test, one of many this season, for a group that is young and may have some growing pains throughout the season, there certainly may be some long nights, but there’s one thing for sure, is that the 2017-18 version of the Sherwood Park Crusaders will be entertaining.
-Story by Taylor Medak