The Sherwood Park Crusaders are looking to turn the page on a dismal weekend that saw the team pick up on out of four points in two games when they face the Bonnyville Pontiacs Wednesday night. The Crusaders squandered one goal leads in both games losing 3-2 in Overtime and 4-3 to the Calgary Canucks and Canmore Eagles respectively.
“It was a mood of we need to continue to improve, after Sunday’s game.” Says Associate Coach Scott McNeil after the loss to Canmore.
As good as the Crusaders have looked this season there is plenty of room for improvement, they are 6-10 versus the Viterra South Division this season, the only games remaining versus the South are against the Olds Grizzlys January 9th and Brooks January 24th.
One thing that does continue to improve and has been a stable on home ice has been the Crusaders Penalty Kill. Ranked fifth in the AJHL heading into Wednesday’s action and an excellent 91.4% at home, which is tops in the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
“We have good execution and excellent sacrifice by the guys on the ice during the Penalty Kill.” Notes McNeil.
The Crusaders killed off 4 penalties on Sunday and did generate some momentum in the second and early in the third periods but could not translate them into goals.
One player who’s been a key contributor to the Penalty Kill is Defenseman Ben Sowa, who knows that Wednesday’s game will need an all around effort going up against the Pontiacs much like the effort the Crusaders show a man short.
“They’re a fast, physical team that is going to on top of you every step of the way, quick plays and keeping it simple, we should be alright.” Says Sowa who is looking to continue a two game point streak heading into Wednesday night.
The Pontiacs will enter Wednesday’s contest eight points back of the Crusaders for fourth in the Viterra North Division, they are coming off a huge 5-1 victory over the Drayton Valley Thunder this past Sunday.
“Work ethic will be key Wednesday night, they are hard working and create a lot offensively so we have to be ready to execute. They have a good Power Play so need to limit opportunities and be good on the Penalty Kill.” Says McNeil on going up against the Pontiacs.
Bonnyville creates offense both up front and on the back end. Three of the top six scorers on the Pontiacs are Defensemen. Minnesota native Ryan Black leads the way with 23 Points.
“We need to have good team defense going up against him and the others. We’ll need to finish checks.” McNeil adds.
The Crusaders have learned that Goaltender Tommy Nixon and Forward Cole Gammer will not return to the team for the remainder of the 2014 calendar year as the two have been selected to represent Team Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge in Kindersley, Saskatchewan December 14th to the 21st. Defenseman Brett Magee who was the third player from the Crusaders to try out did not make the team and should be in the Crusaders lineup for Wednesday’s game against the Pontiacs.
Wednesday will mark the final home game of 2014 for the Crusaders as they wrap up December with four road games with two in Fort McMurray this Friday and Saturday, Tuesday in Grande Prairie and lastly next Thursday in Drayton Valley.
-Story By Taylor Medak