It was a disappointing ending to the first half of the AJHL Season this past Sunday for the Crusaders, falling 9-1 to the defending Gas Drive Cup Champions, the Brooks Bandits.
It was one of those games where what could go wrong for Sherwood Park, did, and in a big way.
“We simply got outskated, outcompeted and outplayed for 60 minutes. You could see why they’re the defending champions, they dominated in every facet of the game. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the game we were expecting to play.” Says Crusaders Head Coach Adam Manah.
The biggest deficiencies for Sherwood Park in their loss to the Bandits, were Special Teams, Faceoffs and the inability to contain some of Brooks’ top players.
The Bandits were 4 for 7 on the man advantage, while the Crusaders 0 for 6.
Brooks’ dominance in the faceoff circle lead to several scoring chances, including the Nicolas Vlahos Goal 17 seconds into the Second Period.
Defenseman Cale Makar led the way with five Points for the Bandits while veteran Nick Prkusic netted a hat trick and a four Point Game.
Although the ending to the first half of the season wasn’t so great, Sherwood Park is headed in the right direction as they have gone 10-4-1 since starting the season 6-9-0, and there have been many bright spots in the latter part of the first half of the 2016-17 Season for the Crusaders.
“We’ve really liked how we’ve played the last 15 Games, and that’s against some good hockey teams. Sure we’ve had our blips, but for the most part we’ve really liked how we played and we’ve found our identity.” Notes Manah.
That identity is being able to roll out four solid Forward lines and play tough Defense one through six, and now we are seeing Goaltender Zac Klassen improve his play to where it needs to be.
Of course there was the hiccups against Brooks, and teams will run into games like they did Sunday, but the Crusaders feel they matchup well against anybody, and that boasts well heading into the second half of the season beginning Friday in Drumheller against the Dragons.
Sherwood Park went 1-1 last year against Drumheller, and losing their only visit to the Memorial Arena 6-3 last December.
“Drumheller always plays good at home, Brian [Curran] does a real good job with their work ethic and how hard they compete.” Said Manah on facing the Dragons.
Drumheller will be coming in with a ton of confidence as they were able to edge out the Brooks Bandits 4-3 in Overtime Wednesday night.
The Dragons are led offensively by a pair of AJHL veterans, Jordan Taupert and Chad Hurtubise lead the team with 29 and 27 Points respectively. Both players are familiar to the Crusaders as Taupert and Hurtubise spent the last two seasons in Drayton Valley and Bonnyville.
A key this weekend will be the Power Play for the Crusaders, part of the reason they are ranked sixth in the AJHL with a man advantage is that they are fourth with a man up, converting at a 24.5% rate.
Saturday, redemption will be on the mind for Crusaders as they look to rebound on the team that embarrassed them 9-1 this past Sunday.
Last weekend the Bandits ended an 11 year Regulation losing streak in Sherwood Park and almost nine years between wins at the Sherwood Park Arena. It’s been a while since the Crusaders have beaten the Bandits in their home barn.
October 10th, 2008 is when the Crusaders last picked up a win Brooks.
Fortunately, Sherwood Park won’t have to deal with Cale Makar on Saturday night, as the Calgary, AB product will represent Team Canada West at the upcoming World Junior A Challenge in Bonnyville, beginning Sunday.
One player doesn’t make or break a team, but the Crusaders have missed Tyler Maltby, who will close out his five game suspension this weekend, serving his final two games.
The Crusaders will once again have their hands full with the Bandits.
“[Ryan Papaioannou] does a fantastic job with Brooks. They’re a good skating club. We know it’s going to be difficult game once again.” Added Manah.
Last year the Crusaders ventured on the same road trip as this time around, the results, were not so pleasing. 6-3 loss to Drumheller, 10-1 loss to the Bandits.
Hopefully, history doesn’t repeat itself.
-Story By Taylor Medak