The Sherwood Park Crusaders are hoping to pick up two valuable points Wednesday as the race for Playoff positioning in the Viterra North Division heats up. The Crusaders are still in reach of third place and second for that matter, but it is a large hill to climb to try and catch Lloydminster, who sits in second place with 58 Points, and Fort McMurray, who is in third spot with 54 Points.
Sherwood Park heads into Wednesday’s game sitting fourth in the Division with 47 Points and while they would like to keep pace with Fort McMurray, the Crusaders have to be cognoscente that there are teams right behind them in the standings. Fourth place signifies the final spot for home ice advantage in the first round of the Gas Drive Cup Playoffs.
One of the teams chasing down the Crusaders, are Wednesday night’s opponent, the Whitecourt Wolverines.
The Wolverines are in the six hole in the Viterra North Division with 40 Points. It’s been an interesting season series between the two clubs, with the home team winning every game, and four of the five meetings have been decided by a goal. The Crusaders are hoping a full effort can be put forth Wednesday in Whitecourt.
“In [previous] games we had exceptional first periods in Whitecourt, and we’ve struggled to score goals, where as last year we would go in and score some goals and be up 5-1. The last time we were there, we should have had a lead like that. We played exceptionally well in the first, but we only come out 1-0. We have to capitalize early and avoid the late game breakdowns.” Says Crusaders GM and Head Coach Tim Fragle heading into Wednesday’s game.
The Crusaders have outscored the Wolverines 2-0 in the first two games in Whitecourt this season but have failed to follow that up in the final 40 minutes being outscored 7-1.
The Crusaders will look to carry the momentum generated by their first win in 2015 coming last Friday against Fort McMurray, edging out the Oil Barons 2-1.
It was an unlikely hero leading the way for the Crusaders as veteran Bryar Ortynski picked up an assist on the Crusaders first goal and potted the Game Winning Goal in the third period.
“I thought our team really played a hard working game, it was one of the first games we played a full 60 minutes, our line had a good game and I was lucky enough to get a goal and pick up an assist.” Says Ortynski who played his fifth game since returning from injury after being out since September 17th.
Friday’s win also marked a career high in wins for Goaltender Zac Klassen with his ninth of the season. Klassen made two huge saves in the dying seconds of Firday’s game to preserve the 2-1 win over the Oil Barons. Klassen will be relied on down the stretch as Tommy Nixon recovers from injury.
The Crusaders should expect a tough matchup against the Wolverines as they come into Wednesday’s action 6-2-2 in their last 10 games. Sherwood Park will try to slow down Wolverines leading scorer John Mullally who has five points in five games against the Crusaders this season. The Crusaders will most likely have to deal with Goaltender Tanner McCorriston who has helped Whitecourt out of the basement of the Viterra North Division and has only two losses in his last seven starts.
After Wednesday night’s game the Crusaders will have a day of practice to prepare for one of the toughest weekends of the season. Friday night they travel to Spruce Grove for the second time this season, the Saints are ranked second in the CJHL Top 20 National Rankings and then on Saturday, they host the Brooks Bandits, who are ranked 14th in the country, for the only time this season.
As mentioned, the Crusaders have teams chasing them in the standings. The closest is Bonnyville who is a single point, with 46 to be exact, behind Sherwood Park. They are in Spruce Grove Wednesday night and the Crusaders will hope their cross town rivals can help them out by taking down the Pontiacs.
-Story By Taylor Medak