Crusaders End 2014 in Drayton Valley

The Sherwood Park Crusaders will look to wrap up the 2014 calendar year with a win on the road Thursday night when they take on the Drayton Valley Thunder.  A road win would bode well for a group that has struggled away from the Sherwood Park Arena this season, winning only seven of 21 games.  The saving grace might be that the seven wins are third best in the division.  Other than Spruce Grove the seven other teams in the Viterra North Division are all below .500 if you count losses and overtime losses together.

A win will snap a three game losing streak.  The team is 2-4-1 in the month of December.  The most recent loss came Tuesday night in Grande Prairie when the Crusaders fell to the Storm 6-4.  Sherwood Park was banged up heading into the game missing their leading goal scorer in Cameron Brezinski and three regular Defensemen in Brett Magee, Chase Torontow and Chris McKay who was serving game one of a two game suspension.

“We wavered from the game plan. We had a good push at end but not consistent enough throughout the game.”   Says Associate Coach Scott McNeill on Tuesday night’s loss.

Although the Crusaders scored first only a minute and thirty eight seconds into the game, the Storm were able to continuously pull away whenever the Crusaders pulled closer.  Forward Daniel Wray scored the games opening goal and is hoping to continue the early game success from Tuesday and bring it into the game Thursday against a struggling Drayton Valley team that has lost 13 in a row.

“We need to look at [Thursday’s] game as a great opportunity to have some fun.  We need to forget how we have been playing and not even think about the fact that Drayton Valley has been having struggles of their own and just go out and play the game we all love.”  Says Wray going up against the Thunder.

“We need to play our game. They will be hungry and we need to compete hard every shift.”  Adds McNeill on going into Thursday’s game.

The Crusaders will look for the season sweep for their road games against the Thunder, two of the seven road wins have came in Drayton Valley.  3-0 and a 4-3 shootout win were the product of strong defense and a never say die attitude the Crusaders have instilled as their M.O this season but has tapered off of late.

“If we can do that, I think all the aspects of our game will come together and we will play like the Crusaders we know we are.”  Said Wray.

The Thunder can pose some serious threats to the Crusaders.  The season series could easily be in favor of the Thunder, who have one win over the Crusaders this season (1-0 October 11th in Sherwood Park) and were up 3-0 in the 4-3 shootout loss late in the 3rd period before Sherwood Park rallied and tied things up to force extra time.

“They have stingy defense, are tight checking and play physical and gritty.”  Says McNeill on the Thunder.

After Thursday night’s game the Crusaders will get a much needed holiday break as they will have played 41 games, which is the most out of any team in the Alberta Junior Hockey League.  The Crusaders resume the remaining 19 game schedule with a big test Saturday January 3rd, 2015 against the Lloydminster Bobcats at home.  The ‘Cats sit five points up on the Crusaders for the coveted second place spot in the Viterra North Division.  Lloydminster has 3 games remaining in their schedule before the Christmas break.

-Story by Taylor Medak