The Sherwood Park Crusaders upset the Grande Prairie Storm in the first round of the Alberta Junior Hockey League playoffs with a 3-2 series clincher on Saturday, March 9.
The game was closer on the score sheet than it was on the ice, as the seventh-seeded Cru played their style of game and took it to the Storm. Grande Prairie, which was the second seed in the AJHL North Division, didn’t look like the favourites in this game — save for one minute in the third where the Storm tied the game. In the end, the Crusaders were diligent and finished out the best-of-five series 3-1.
“I think we got a little excited and put the cart before the horse and let two in,” said Crusaders head coach Tim Fragle. “Up until that point we haven’t given them much, so that was our error.”
With goals by Danny Smith, Sean MacTavish and Stefan Bazar, the Cru controlled the game by out-hustling the Storm and seemingly wanting the win more.
“Our game is tempo,” Fragle said. “We’ve got lots of speed and when our speedy guys play physical we are a tough team to play against. We like to push the speed and the tempo game.”
It was another stellar game by Crusaders goalie Matt Tomkins, as he turned aside 23 of 25 shots. At the other end of the rink, the Crusaders poured 42 shots at Storm goaltender (and AJHL goalie of the year) Nick Kulmanovsky, who also stood on his head in hopes of keeping his team in it long enough for them to fight back for the win.
Up next is the Spruce Grove Saints who got a bye in the first round after finishing first in the North. This series is a best of seven with Game 1 to be held on Thursday, March 14 with the time yet to be decided as of press-time.
“You are going to have to go through the best team to move on,” Fragle said. “It’s good to get into the second round, but when in the playoffs you can take a day to enjoy it, but then you have to get back to work.”
As for the Cru, Fragle believes it was determination that won it for them. Never questioning their resolve, they knew they had a chance to win even though they finished much lower in the standings.
“They are pretty excited,” he said. “I thought coming into the series we knew it was going to be a tough one with Grande Prairie, but we knew that if we played well we could win this series. We believed that.”
Cru goalie Matt Tomkins was awarded the 2012-2013 Pro Hockey Life Award. He was selected as the Pro Hockey Life Star of the Game 14 times in the regular season, and thus accumulated 70 points in the Pro Hockey Life Award standings helping him win the honour. Tomkins was presented with the award by AJHL Commissioner Ryan Bartoshyk in a pre-game ceremony before the Cru’s 4-2 win on Friday, March 8.
Tomkins finished the season with a record of 22-14-6. He also had four shutouts to go along with a 2.56 goals against average. He has also committed to Ohio State Buckeyes for the 2013-14 season and was selected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft in the seventh round, 199th overall.