On Saturday the Sherwood Park Crusaders organization will open up their 37th training camp in Sherwood Park at the Sherwood Park Arena. Once again the Crusaders are in search of the elusive, first AJHL championship. A team with little turnover from 2014-15 is poised to have a strong campaign and challenge the top teams in the Viterra North Division. Although the bulk of the team is returning for this year’s training camp, the coaching staff for the Crusaders Coaching staff looks a little different.
GM and Head Coach Tim Fragle returns for his sixth season but will have a few new colleagues as former Associate Coach Scott McNeill stepped down over the offseason to pursue opportunities outside of hockey. Fragle began a search for a new Associate Coach during the summer and hired former Fort Saskatchewan Trader and Fort McMurray Oil Baron, Adam Manah. Manah spent four seasons in the Alberta Junior Hockey League from 2004 to 2008. The Edmonton, Alberta native was the Head Coach of the Grande Prairie Storm Midget AAA program last season.
Fragle did not stop there as he added former NHL’er and Edmonton Oiler, Shawn Belle to the coaching staff along with long time coach Wendell Hodgson, who was a member of the Fort McMurray Oil Baron coaching staff that won the RBC Cup in 2000.
“It was very unfortunate that we lost Scott. I really enjoyed working with him and want to thank him for all his efforts over the course of the past two seasons. The addition of the new coaches bring the team a good mixture of creditable coaching experience and playing experience. All three are very excited to join the organization.” Says Fragle on the new staff.
As mentioned, there is little turnover from the 2014-15 roster coming into main camp. 20 year olds Arthur Gordon, Dane Phaneuf and Stephen Shmoorkoff have graduated while Goaltender Tommy Nixon will begin his Freshman year at Holy Cross in the NCAA and youngster Lane Zablocki likely will report to the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League, as his right were traded from Prince George this past summer, there is lots of opportunity for returning players to elevate their play.
“We went young last season after a big turnover the previous season thus putting us into a spot we haven’t been in since I have been here. I believe all returnees can play an important role this season.” Fragle noted.
Sherwood Park will have 10 returning Forwards for what looks like 13 to 14 available spots upfront. Mix in the addition of veteran Junior Forward Devon McAndrews, who the Crusaders acquired in early August, plus a crop of talented Midget recruits, the competition level should be to the max for the Forwards.
“We expect a number of first players to push for spots and that’s why we have training camp. We are looking for 14 forward to start the season.” Said Fragle on his Forward group.
One Forward to keep an eye on in camp will be pint sized Ty Readman. The 5’7 Forward was the leading scorer for the AMHL’s (Midget AAA) Maple Leaf Athletic Club last season, saw plenty of action with the Cru during the tail end of 2014-15 and played in every Playoff game for the Crusaders.
“We like Ty and are excited to see him at camp to show us how ready he is to play this season.” Notes Fragle on Readman.
All throughout last season it was regarded by other Coaches in the AJHL that the Crusaders had the best Defensive core in the league. With the exception of Dane Phaneuf and Stephen Shmoorkoff ever Defenseman returns to the team.
Much like the Forwards, Fragle expects anyone of his core D-men to make a big impact in 2015-16.
“We like all our Dmen returning and feel all will contribute in many different ways.” Fragle notes.
The competition was so fierce in last year’s camp that Fragle decided to keep eight Defensemen, something that could be in the fold for this season.
The Crusaders are strong and deep in every department. Maybe the deepest is in Goal. Next to Fort McMurray Goaltender Ravi Dattani’s 142 Games Played, Crusaders netminder Zac Klassen has the most AJHL experience with 66 Games Played among Goalies listed on team’s rosters on the AJHL’s website.
Klassen was thrusted into the starter’s role for the better part of 2014-15 as Tommy Nixon struggled with injury, the 18 year old also won his first playoff series as the Crusaders ousted the Western Canada Cup hosts Fort McMurray Oil Barons in four games.
“We have confidence in Zac and he showed at times last season the ability to keep our team in games. He is entering his third year and we expect him to draws on his experiences to take the next step.” Says Fragle on Klassen.
There will be a healthy competition for the back up role in training camp, and to Fragle, you might not have to call it the back up role but rather the second Goaltender.
“You need to have two good goalies that can play. We have seen injuries at this position over the course of the last few seasons thus the importance in finding the most capable goalie that’s ready to play.”
The Crusaders will conduct a series of practices and scrimmages each day leading up the 40 man intersquad game on Tuesday August 25th at 2pm. Practices in the morning followed by scrimmages in the afternoon.
With under 60 players attending camp, Fragle expects a high compete level as he looks to build a team to compete in what might be the toughest year yet in the Viterra North Division.
“We want to see Competitiveness. We want players that hate to lose and love to compete.
We are looking to be a group with strong team defense and depth that will work together to lead our team success.” Says Fragle heading into main camp.
Things kick off at 10am Saturday August 22nd at the Sherwood Park Arena with the first scrimmage at 5:15pm. Click here for complete Camp Schedule.
The Crusaders begin Exhibition play Thursday August 27th for Game One of Three as the Camrose Kodiaks host their Pre Season tournament at Encana Arena. Sherwood Park will play two home Exhibition games, August 31st vs Spruce Grove and September 5th vs Fort McMurray.
-Story By Taylor Medak