It was always bound to be a difficult road swing, but the Crusaders performed admirably in their three-game trip this weekend that saw the team play three games in three days in back-to-back-to-back action.
Despite the Crusaders 1-2 record over the weekend, the team took each of their opponents to the limit on a southern swing that head coach Adam Manah described as a “Murder's Row” trip in a recent edition of the Sherwood Park News. Not only was the organization tasked with playing three games in three nights, but faced with taking on the division-leading Brooks Bandits, last year's Viterra South Division champion Okotoks Oilers and a Calgary Mustangs team that had won 10 of its last 12 games. The Crusaders were in the midst of a stretch that saw the organization play five games in seven days, but the team looked ready for the road trip after a hard-fought 2-1 victory over the Fort McMurray Oil Barons on Tuesday evening.
Friday night saw the Crusaders kick off their road trip against the top team in the AJHL, the Brooks Bandits. It was the second meeting of the 2018/2019 season for the two squads following a 6-2 Bandits victory in Sherwood Park on November 24th.
Unfortunately, early on it looked as though Friday's game would feature a similar result to the action of November 24th. By the 2:04 mark of the 2nd period, Brooks forward Jake Theis had completed a hat trick and given the AJHL-leading Bandits a 3-0 lead over the squad from Sherwood Park. However, Reid Irwin (5) and Arjun Atwal (15) were able to score in the waning minutes of the second period to bring the Crusaders within one heading into the final frame.
However, the Crusaders comeback bid wasn't to be. The third period was a textbook example of the high-quality hockey featured throughout the Alberta Junior Hockey League, with both the Crusaders and Bandits pushing each other to the limit. While the first ten minutes of the stanza was fast-paced and physical, neither team conceded a goal until the 9:53 mark when Zach Kaiser scored his 2nd goal as a Crusaders to tie the game up. However, Kaiser's goal not only sparked the Crusaders but the Bandits as well. Within a minute of each other, the Bandits' William Lemay and Ryan Marshie had sandwiched a Nick Bowman goal and given Brooks a 5-4 lead – one they wouldn't relinquish in their one-goal victory.
Saturday night, the Crusaders headed to the Pason Centennial Arena to take on the Okotoks Oilers. This was the second meeting between the two teams with the first coming on a couple of weeks ago. That night at the Sherwood Park Arena, the Crusaders fell 4-1 to the Oilers on Hometown Hockey night.
The Crusaders were looking for revenge on the night and got off to a great start with a 3-1 lead early in the second period with goals from Will Zapernick and two from Arjun Atwal. However, the Oilers came surging back with two goals for themselves before the 10-minute mark of the period from Kyle Gordon and Dylan Holloway to tie the game up at 3-3.
Okotoks grabbed hold of the game in the third period, and despite having three powerplay opportunities, the Crusaders were unable to regain their lead and instead conceded four more goals.
After dropping two straight games, the Crusaders looked to finish their three-game swing on a high note against the Calgary Mustangs, winners of 10 of their last 12. The Mustangs entered the afternoon's action looking for revenge stemming from a 4-3 loss to the Crusaders on January 11th.
From the onset, both teams looked unwilling to give the other an inch. Neither team was able to tickle the twine in the first ten minutes of the game, with only a single penalty to break up the fast-paced action. However, it's difficult to keep the Crusaders high-powered offence down for long, and it wasn't long before Crusaders leading scorer Garrett Clegg had registered not only his 27th goal of the campaign but his 28th as well for a 2-0 lead heading into the intermission.
The second and third stanzas were much like the first, but with scoring. There was no difference in the pace of play throughout the 2nd and 3rd, but the two teams were able to combine for ten goals over the final 40 minutes of play. Fortunately for the visiting squad, the goals advantage fell in their favour. While the Mustangs were able to pull within one goal, tallies from Nick Bowman (11), Carter Savoie (23), Zach Kaiser (11,12) and William Zapernick (23) were able to keep the 'Stangs at bay and bring the Crusaders back into the win column.
Next up, the Crusaders are at home for a set of back-to-back games against the Fort McMurray Oil Barons and the Drumheller Dragons. Tickets can be purchased for this weekend's action on the Crusaders official ticketing site.