It’s been an interesting first month of the 2014-15 season for the Sherwood Park Crusaders, early struggles to pick up a win in regulation and questions on who will score for the team have now been vindicated.
It wasn’t till the team’s fifth game that they were able to pick up their first win in regulation and their sixth game to score more than 3 goals. Since Sherwood Park’s 4-1 loss to Whitecourt on September 17th the Crusaders have gone 5 and 1 scoring no less than 4 goals in wins only once, the loss came to Brooks at the Showcase by a score of 4-0.
“We have been competitive in every game with the exception of one and the league is as tight as ever. We are still striving to be consistent shift to shift.” Says Crusaders GM and Head Coach Tim Fragle.
The Crusaders went 6-3-1 in the month of September and sit 1 point out of first place in the Viterra North Division behind Fort McMurray who has 14 points, heading into this weekend’s AJHL action.
The Crusaders will be heading to Southern Alberta this weekend for 3 games in 3 days. Canmore Eagles are the opponent Friday night, while Sherwood Park travels to Okotoks Saturday night and wraps the trip up with an afternoon date in Calgary against the Canucks. Out of division teams only make 1 trip a season to the other teams’ respective “barns” so it sometimes may be tough to get a gauge on them this early in the season, fortunately for Coach Fragle, this may not be the case.
“I saw all these teams play at the Showcase and we have video on them. We will now prepare the players accordingly.” Notes Fragle.
Few things we know about Friday’s opponent the Canmore Eagles, they are in the top 4 in the AJHL on the Power Play and there will be no Trey Philips this season as last year’s AJHL Defenseman Of The Year and MVP has graduated on to the NCAA.
“Canmore has always been strong at home. We need to have a good start and be discipline start to finish. Special Teams always seem to be a factor in their rink as well.” Fragle said.
Saturday the Crusaders travel to Okotoks to face the Oilers. Notoriously a strong team in the Viterra South Division the last few seasons, the Oilers have only 4 wins in their first 10 games and sit in fourth spot heading into the weekend.
“They had a slow start but I watched them at the Showcase and they looked as structured as per usual. They have been playing good hockey of late and our strong at home.” Fragle says.
The Oilers are led by North Dakota commit Rhett Garnder who is looking to garner more NHL Draft attention as he was one of the AJHL players on last year’s Central Scouting’s Rankings list.
The Southern swing comes to a close in Calgary where I’m sure a trip to Pete’s Drive-In is on the line if the Crusaders can pick up a win against the Canucks. Although the Canucks are near the bottom of the standings in the South, Sunday’s game is the only game this weekend for Calgary and they are coming off a huge victory over the Brooks Bandits this past Wednesday.
“They will be rested and waiting for us. We need to play a smart and simple game as it's tough to play 3 games in 2 and a half days.” Said Fragle.
The Canucks have played the Crusaders tough over the last few seasons, and have gotten good Goaltending from netminder Colin Cooper, Sherwood Park lost last year’s visit to the Max Bell Arena, 4-2.
In the month of September, the Crusaders have played in some very tight games and coming out on top, they have also scored some very timely goals, primarily in the first and last minutes of periods. Something that was culminated in last game’s 4-3 Overtime victory in Bonnyville as rookie Cole Gammer scored the winning goal 59 seconds into the extra frame.
“Our younger forwards are becoming more confident each game thus the reason for goals at key times. We do put a high emphasis on good starts and finishes to each period.” Fragle added.
It definitely is early in the season, but a chance to be in first place is something the Crusaders can build off of and enjoy the feeling of their work being put forward is paying off. Sherwood Park will return home next Wednesday, October 8th to face the Grande Prairie Storm.
-Story by Taylor Medak