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Crusaders Face Division’s Best

Crusaders @ Lloydminster  – Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015 – 7:30 PM

Media: Bobcats Radio Network & AJHL Web TV

Crusaders VS Spruce Grove – Saturday, September 26th, 2015 – 7:00 PM

Crusaders VS Calgary Mustangs – Sunday, September 27th, 2015 – 2:15 PM

Media: AJHL Web TV

The stars have aligned nicely for the Sherwood Park Crusaders in the early part of the 2015-16 Regular Season, they have their best start since 2011-2012, they are third in the AJHL in scoring and now get to go up against the elite in two of the next three games.

Starting Tuesday the Crusaders will face the Lloydminster Bobcats and the Spruce Grove Saints in consecutive games.  Sherwood Park is coming off a pair of wins, 5-1 over the Bonnyville Pontiacs Sunday afternoon and an 8-3 grubbing of the Fort McMurray Oil Barons last Friday.  Although the results look good on paper, the Crusaders coaching staff isn’t letting the team get ahead of themselves.

“We’re still inconsistent. We played 50 minutes on Friday and 40 minutes on Sunday.”  Says Crusaders GM and Head Coach Tim Fragle.

The Crusaders are at the point where being good enough just isn’t good enough.  The attention to detail is at the forefront as Fragle has built this year’s edition of the Crusaders to be a contender and not a pretender.

Part of the reason for the Crusaders early success has been the play of Forward Tyler Maltby.  The second year Crusaders netted a Hat Trick in the 5-1 win over the Pontiacs, and is tied for the league lead with 6 along side Brandon Biro of the Spruce Grove Saints.

“[Tyler] is a power forward that is hard to handle when he takes pucks to the net. He has a good skill set for a big Forward.”  Notes Fragle.

Goals have been hard to come by for the opposition when playing Lloydminster so far this season.  The RBC Cup hosts have only allowed five goals in their 4-0 start.

“They’re always a big team, going into Lloydminster it’s always tough to play there.  They’ve got good support from their fans and which ever team goes in to that game that works harder and wins the small battles usually come out on top.”  Says Maltby on playing in Lloydminster.

It seems that it’s not a surprise that Maltby has had the early success as he was able to put in quite the summer in the gym and returned to the Crusaders, lighter, faster and stronger.

“I was able to workout with my trainer Phil at First Line Training in Sherwood Park, I’ve been with him for the past few summers.  I really enjoy going to the gym with him, I took it a lot more seriously this summer knowing that this can be a big year for our team.”  Maltby adds.

A big year that has a lot of hockey to be played with 56 games remaining heading into Tuesday night against the Bobcats.  Both teams head into this matchup at 4-0 and will provide a good test for one another.

“They are a structured deep team that will be one of the leagues best.”  States Fragle.

The week doesn’t get any easier with two games on the weekend for the Crusaders.  After the Bobcats, the Crusaders welcome the Spruce Grove Saints to the Sherwood Park Arena and it will mark the first meeting between the two clubs since the Saints eliminated Sherwood Park in the Gas Drive Cup Playoffs last spring.

“There’s a hatred, there’s no easy way to say it.  There’s always been a big rivalry as they are our cross town rival, it’s going to be intense, I hope the boys are ready to go.”  Says Maltby on playing Spruce Grove.

The Saints seem to be the hurdle the Crusaders need to get over in order to get to the next level,  last spring marked the third year in a row the Saints eliminated the Crusaders in the Post Season.  Each time the Saints have gone on to the Gas Drive Cup Finals.

“We need to take it with a one game at a time focus. The competition is difficult every night.  We will however need to play with high pace, high compete and sticking to the game plan.”  Says Fragle on keeping the focus throughout the week and the keys to playing the Saints.

The week wraps up for the Crusaders next Sunday with an afternoon tilt against the Calgary Mustangs, the Crusaders took both games last season against the Mustangs.  The Crusaders cannot take the Mustangs lightly, especially on a Sunday afternoon.

“Our feet were a little slow going into Sunday against Bonnyville, it was the first Sunday afternoon game of the year, the routine might have been different for some.  We got the first one out of the way so the guys should now how to prepare now.”  Says Maltby on the team playing Sunday.

No matter the opponent the Crusaders have to come out with a good start on Sunday’s, Sherwood Park has eight more games this season that start in the afternoon.

“There are no excuses, we expect our players to be ready regardless of the start time. It's there job to be prepared to perform.”  Says Fragle on afternoon games.

The next three games should give us a better idea in which direction this team can go and how they measure up to the early favorites to be one and two in the standings with Lloydminster and Spruce Grove.  With a win Tuesday, the Crusaders would be 5-0 for the first time since 2011-2012.

Players To Watch:  For the Crusaders, it’s been Tyler Maltby for the last few games and goals are hard to come by against the Bobcats and Saints, can the power Forward continue the goal scoring streak.  Ryan Kruper has consistenly chipped in since the start of the season and usually comes up big against the Bobcats and Saints.  Defenseman Chris McKay is third on the team in scoring and has shown more confidence with the puck to start the season. 

For the Bobcats, they have a plethora of talent.  Up front, Taylor Allan leads the way with five points, puck moving Defenseman Graydon Smith and Holy Cross commit Kevin Darrar have also chipped in with five points, and Goaltender Alex Leclerc will be tough to solve as he has three wins, one shutout and a .956 save percentage. 

Saturday against Spruce Grove watch out for the league’s leading scorerer (heading into this week) Brandon Biro, the Sherwood Park Native has six goals and nine points after five games played.  Tyler Busch is always a threat while veterans Riley Simpson and Nicolas Correale look make more of an impact offensively this season. 

On Sunday the Calgary Mustangs will bring in a completive lineup, returnees Vincent Paquette and Dondre Watson lead the mustangs with six and four points respectively, Watson’s four points are all goals.

Story By Taylor Medak