Crusaders Go Up Against Nation’s Best

The beginning of the 2015 calendar year has not been kind to the Sherwood Park Crusaders with only one win in their last six games to begin 2015, they are also 2-7-1 in their last 10 games.

And it doesn’t get any easier Friday and Saturday night, when they take on two of the top teams in the country in Spruce Grove and home against Brooks.

Friday night the Crusaders travel cross town to take on the second ranked team in the CJHL Top 20, the Spruce Grove Saints.  It’s the second visit to the Grant Fuhr Arena this season for the Cru and it is the second time these two teams will have met in the last 12 days.

The Crusaders allowed goals within the last two and a half minutes remaining in each period to fall 3-2 to the Saints on January 11th.

Sherwood Park comes into Friday’s game after losing 2-1 to Whitecourt on the road on Wednesday.

“We didn't capitalize on four or five quality scoring chances. Plus we had too many passengers, we need everyone to play every night.”  Says Crusaders GM and Head Coach Tim Fragle on why his team came up empty handed against the Wolverines.

The offense has dried up for the Crusaders, a team that was known for scoring in bunches and opportune times earlier this season is averaging 1.6 Goals Per Game if you omit the 7-6 Shootout loss in Olds.

“It's all about habits and smarts. Both areas need to be better for us to start to produce more offense.”  Says Fragle on the struggle to score goals.

With a fragile team right now, the mission heading into the weekend for the Crusaders will not totally be measured by wins and losses.

“The goal this weekend is for us to play with consistent effort, focus, attitude and compete. If we do that results will follow.”  Said Fragle.

Although the record against the Saints this season may not show it, some of the best efforts this season have been against the Saints.  Three of the four games this season have been decided by two goals or less and all of the games have been close with the Saints pulling ahead late.

The Crusaders are 1-3 against Spruce Grove this season, picking up their only victory 3-2 in Overtime on September 13th.

“Each game is its own, we need to be ready to start and be consistent all night in their building. It's a tough building to get results in this year!”  Says Fragle on going into the Grant Fuhr Arena.

The Saints are 18-1-3 on home ice this season, however, the Crusaders are 4-1 in their last five visits to the Grant Fuhr Arena, starting with Game 1 of the North Division Semi-Finals last post season.

Saturday the focus will shift to another top team, the Brooks Bandits, ranked 14th in the CJHL, make their only appearance of the season at the Sherwood Park Arena and marks the final meeting of the season against a Viterra South Division opponent.  The Crusaders have gone 6-9-2 against the Viterra South Division this season.

The Crusaders will hope history is on their side once again as they host the Brooks Bandits. 

The 2012-13 RBC Cup Champions have not won in Sherwood Park since December 16th 2006.  Their last regulation win at the Sherwood Park Arena was September 11th, 2005.

In the seven games since the Bandits have won in Sherwood Park, four of them have gone to Overtime, with the Cru winning the last two games in O.T, three in total.  The other was a 3-3 tie in the 2009-10 season.

The Bandits head into the weekend’s action sitting in second place in the Viterra South Division with a record of 34-10-1 and 69 points, four back of first place Camrose.

Brooks will play in Lloydminster Friday night before they come to Sherwood Park on Saturday.

The Bandits are led by MVP candidate Austin Plevy, who leads the league in Assists and Points with 48 and 74 respectively.  They are second in the entire league in scoring with 178 Goals For (Coincidently Spruce Grove is first with 201) and have won four in a row going 7-3-0 in their last 10 heading into the weekend.

“They are deep upfront and have been good defensively against us this season. We need to play good team defense, and be committed to each teammate to do their job.”  Says Fragle on going up against the Bandits and Plevy.

It is also a rare third meeting between the out of division foes, the two teams were matched up against one another at the AJHL showcase back in September with the Bandits winning 4-0.  The Crusaders also failed to score in their visit to Brooks this season back in November, losing 2-0.

It is over a combined decade since either club has won a game against each other on the road.

The Crusaders head into this weekend’s action sitting in the same spot as they finished last week, sitting in fourth place in the Viterra North Division, now with a record of 21-21-5 and 47 Points.  Bonnyville remains one point back of the Crusaders for fourth which is the final spot for Home Ice in the first round of the Gas Drive Cup Playoffs.  The Pontiacs are idle Friday night before hosting Okotoks and Drumheller on the weekend.

-Story By Taylor Medak