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Crusaders Looking To Climb Back

Crusaders @ Whitecourt Wolverines – Mayerthorpe, AB – Saturday, October 10th, 2015 – 7:30 PM

Media: Wolverines Radio Network & AJHL Web TV (Subject To Change)

Crusaders VS Calgary Canucks – Sunday October 11th, 2015 – 2:15 PM

Media: AJHL Web TV

With the fewest games played out of the teams in the Viterra North Division, the time is now for the Crusaders to return to their winning ways and make a climb in the standings.  It all starts with a Saturday night contest on the road against the Whitecourt Wolverines and an afternoon date against the Calgary Canucks at the Sherwood Park Arena.  Saturday night will mark the first meeting of the season between the two clubs but it will be the third straight neutral site game for Sherwood Park.  Saturday night’s matchup will be played in Mayerthorpe, AB as issues at the Scott Safety Centre arose Saturday morning, forcing the change in venue.

The Crusaders previous two games, as mentioned, neutral site games at the AJHL Showcase in Camrose saw Sherwood Park fall to the Olds Grizzlys (5-2) and the Canmore Eagles (5-3).  The Crusaders have one win in their last five games but perhaps a return to divisional play is what Sherwood Park needs to keep pace in the North.

“Everything was missing from our game last week, we just weren’t right.”  Says Crusaders GM and Head Coach Tim Fragle on his teams two games in Camrose.

From top to bottom the Crusaders have been lacking consistency of late, and the players are realizing that themselves.

“We played well at times [last weekend] but we really weren’t playing as a team, we didn’t do the little things it takes to win consistently.”  Says Crusaders Defenseman Chris McKay.

Mckay has been a bright spot through the first month of the AJHL season.  The Edmonton, AB product has matched his Goal total from last season and will crush his point total from 8 in 14-15 to already having 7 through nine games.  But McKay knows that his team has to play from their end out to have success like they did in September.

“Our defensive zone wasn’t as tight as it should be, we need more commitment to the defensive zone and sacrificing for the better of the team.” 

The defensive zone play is something coach Fragle cites, among other things that have wavered in the last five games from the first four the Crusaders won to start the season

“We also need to be more discipline, sticking to the game plan and having a strong focus and mental game.”

The Crusaders had a hard week of practice preparing for the weekend games working on defensive zone structure, decision making and lots of compete drills.

Historically Sherwood Park has gotten into some high scoring affairs with Whitecourt but have also been able to shut them down, heading into Saturday’s game the Crusaders and Wolverines have scored 40 goals each, among the top teams in the division, but it’s Sherwood Park with the edge in terms of average goals per game with 4.44 to Whitecourts 3.64.

“We feel deeper as in years past going up against them but we still want to play our game and not get into a track meet with them, in order for that we need to play with structure, have good management of pucks and  be discipline.”  Said Fragle on slowing down the Wolverine attack and avoid a high scoring contest.

The players as well know what will be needed to be done.

“We need to win the battles at the blue lines, get pucks out of our zone and get them deep, those are keys for both games this weekend.”  Adds McKay.

Perhaps a return home as well might be what the doctor ordered for Sherwood Park as they look to climb the standings in the North.  Sunday afternoon at 2:15 PM at the Sherwood Park Arena marks the only visit by the Calgary Canucks this season.  The Crusaders have been successful on Sunday so far this year, but the Canucks should come in with confidence as they took both games against Sherwood Park in 2014-15.

“We need to have a good start and play our team game on Sunday. We didn’t execute on our scoring chances and ran into some good goaltending against them last year.”  Says Fragle on going up against the Canucks.

As mentioned the Crusaders find themselves behind the 8 ball in terms of points right now in the division but have played the fewest games, at 5-4-0 they trail the Wolverines by six points for third in the division with two games in hand and Bonnyville by five points with four games in hand.  The Crusaders cannot get out of the fifth spot they sit in this weekend, but two wins can inch them closer to that upper echelon of the Viterra North Division, a spot that should be in.

Players to watch:  For Sherwood Park, Chris McKay will look to provide stability on the backend and as well add to his 7 points on the season thus far, Forward Ryan Kruper remains in the top 10 in scoring in the AJHL riding a three game Point streak that has seen him net 3 Goals and 5 assists in that span, Goaltending Zac Klassen will look to rebound after his last start allowing 5 goals on 23 shots against Olds last week, Tim Fragle made a Goaltending change sending Austin McGrath back to Midget AAA and added Zach Dyment of Abbotsford, BC, we may see the former Salmon Arm Silverback this weekend…For Whitecourt it will be a handful of players but notably Forward Linden Penner who leads the team in scoring with 10 points, the Wolverines have a plethora of players nearing the 10 point plateau with the likes of Kevin Domingue, NCAA commits Joseph Nardi and Justin Young, Defenseman Jordan Davies generates offense from the back end, and always keep your eye on Taden Rattie who’s had a slow start offensively to the season…For the Calgary Canucks, a team that is once again in the basement of the South is led by returning players Michael Clarke and Zach McNeill 4 goals and 4 assists each, rookie Andrew Marshall is also tied for the team lead with 8 points, 6 of them assists.

-Story By Taylor Medak