The Crusaders looked like conquerors on Saturday.
The Sherwood Park Crusaders pulled off an awfully big feat as they were able to defeat the Alberta Junior Hockey league and Canadian Junior Hockey League leading Brooks Bandits 3-2 in overtime in front of their own fans at the Arena.
The win, capping a giant post-holiday push for the Cru (25-19-7), was satisfying for head coach Tim Fragle.
From Fragle’s perspective though, extra time shouldn’t have even been necessary.
“I would have liked to have won 2-1 or 1-0, that would have been better,” he said. “With that said, two points are two points.”
Josh Healey was the hero of the night, scoring in overtime. At first, heroics didn’t seem necessary as the Cru held a gutsy 1-0 lead going into the third. The Cru and the Bandits (45-2-3) traded power play goals late in the third as the Cru seemed to have the game in hand with 16 minutes to go and a penalty against the Bandits. Then, the bottom fell out with Brooks burying a short-handed goal as the Cru hung their heads and looked for some resolve heading into the overtime. That was when Healey took the team on his back and scored from a great set-up from Bowen Croft and Nicholas Jones at 4:52 into the extra frame. The Crusaders success does not surprise coach Fragle.
“I knew we could play with the top teams, we just needed to get everything going,” Fragle said.
“Now we are starting to get hot at the right time, with nine games left in the season and a big win in Spruce Grove the other night.
“We’ve got nine of 10 possible points in our last five games, so we are heading in the right direction.”
The latest run by the Cru has them in prime position to push for a home ice playoff birth in the North Division of the AJHL.
“If we win five of nine, or six of nine, that puts us on home ice for the playoffs, that is how close the division is right now. Also, home ice is important with last change and you get to sleep in your own bed — those are big factors. We are hoping that we can keep the streak going.”
Fragle couldn’t say enough positive things about his team, but at the same time, knows that this is just one of many steps in the right direction.
“We said all along, because of the injuries and everything that we went through this year, that if we could start finding our game after Christmas we would be happy, and it is starting to come true.”
Croft had a stellar game with a goal and two assists, and Healey and Jones had a goal and assist each. Matt Tomkins played like a dervish, stopping 29 of 31 shots and earning the first star of the game.
Things don’t get any easier for the Cru, as they play the Camrose Kodiaks (30-17-4), second in the AJHL in points.
The Kodiaks will likely be sure not to take the Cru lightly after such a gusty performance. The game will be at home at the Arena on Friday, Feb. 8 at 7 p.m.