Crusaders Open 2016 in Spruce Grove

Sherwood Park Crusaders (24-12-2) @ Spruce Grove Saints (31-6-2) January 2nd, 2016

Media: AJHL Web TV

The Sherwood Park Crusaders are looking to kick off 2016 the same way they ended 2015.  A win, on the road, against the Spruce Grove Saints.

The two rivals headed into the holiday break after playing back to back games on December 18th and 19th in Sherwood Park and Spruce Grove, with the Saints and Crusaders winning respectively on the road.

The 3-1 victory over the Saints on December 19th was the Crusaders first victory over Spruce Grove this season.

Sherwood Park will see the return of a few familiar faces to their bench Saturday night, as GM and Head Coach Tim Fragle returns behind the bench and league leading Goal scorer, Forward Tyler Maltby returns to the ice after the two won gold with Team Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge in Ontario.

“It feels great to be back home and get started on the stretch drive of the season.”  Says the Team Canada West Head Coach.

Fragle was asked if there was one thing he could take back to the Crusaders from the World Junior A Challenge.

“We had team buy-in at its finest and that is what it takes to win!”

The Crusaders went 3-4-0 in the absence of Coach Fragle but picked up huge divisional wins against Drayton Valley, Lloydminster and as mentioned, Spruce Grove.

“Five of the games were solid, only two games I wasn’t happy with our effort.”  Adds Fragle.

The Crusaders hope FWD Tyler Maltby can make an immediate impact in his return.  Sherwood Park averaged 2.57 Goals Per Game in Maltby’s absence, over a Goal less per game than their season average of 3.86 Goals Per Game.

It was quite the December for Maltby, not only did he win Gold at the WJAC, but the Sherwood Park Native committed to Arizona State Univeristy in the NCAA.  A school that is primarily known for their Football and Basketball teams, the Division One independent in Ice Hockey is making quite the name for themselves in their first year in Division One.

“We’re excited for him and his family. He was getting a lot of attention from schools during the month of December which I’m sure made his decision difficult.” Says Fragle on Maltby.

Even though the GM and Head Coach was away, that didn’t stop the Crusaders from making some player personnel changes.

Sherwood Park acquired the rights to Forward Matt Dykstra from the Calgary Canucks, Dykstra had been playing in the Western Hockey League with the Victoria Royals prior to arriving to the Crusaders.

“Matt is a big power forward that can play with pace and can contribute offensively.”  Fragle Said.

Dykstra also spent last season with the Calgary Canucks playing in 53 Games, scoring 10 Goals and adding 13 Assists.

The Crusaders have also moved the rights of Forward Danton Davis to the Okotoks Oilers, a move that frees up space as the January 10th Trade Deadline approaches.

The focus however is on Saturday night and the Spruce Grove Saints.  Much like the Crusaders, the Saints also have a few bodies returning from the World Junior A Challenge.  Forwards Tyler Busch and Brandon Biro along with Goaltender Matt Murray return to the Saints lineup.

The Season series between the Crusaders and Saints isn’t as lob sided as the record might show.  Spruce Grove leads the season matchup 3-1 with each team winning once by two goals, the other two, one goal games.

A big key for Saturday night’s game will be a good start.  Both teams last playing a game on December 19th.  As well, the team that has scored first in the four matchups between Spruce Grove and Sherwood Park is 4-0.

“We need to build on the momentum from the Home and Home series before the holiday break as both games were tight and we will need to play our game as a team.”  Notes Fragle on Saturday’s matchup.

Sherwood Park heads into Saturday night with 50 Points and sitting fifth in the Viterra North Division, six points back of Whitecourt who is in fourth.

Players to watchFor the Crusaders, Forward Ryan Kruper is riding a three game point streak and leads the team with 48 Points…For the Saints, Forward Colton Leiter is on a three game goal streak and a seven game point streak.  The recent Alaska-Fairbanks commit has four game winning goals, one of them against Sherwood Park.

-Story By Taylor Medak