The Sherwood Park Crusaders are looking to kick off 2015 with a high note when they host the Lloydminster Bobcats Saturday night at the Sherwood Park Arena. The team limped into the holiday break winning only three games out of eight games in the month of December.
Needless to say, it wasn’t the best month for the Crusaders who failed to make ground and distance themselves in the Viterra North Division. Instead the Crusaders have a bit of a hill to climb in their final 19 Regular Season games if they want the best position in the standings heading towards the Gas Drive Cup Playoffs.
Heading into Saturday night’s game Sherwood Park, sitting in fourth, is seven points back of second place Lloydminster.
Part of the recent struggle was the absence of several key components of the team. GM and Head Coach Tim Fragle, Goaltender Tommy Nixon, and first year standout Forward Cole Gammer were representing Team Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge in Saskatchewan.
But Fragle is back, ready to get back to the norm, and so is his team.
“I’m glad to be back. We all had a good break and are all looking forward to get back to work!” Says an excited Fragle.
Fragle was quick to point out several other key areas where the Crusaders struggled while away.
“We struggled with being able to ice a healthy lineup. Our team defense, overall structure and discipline also contributed.” Adds Fragle.
At one point in December, the Crusaders were forced to dress 5 affiliates (Dec 16th at Grande Prairie) due to absences and injuries of several key players.
The injury bug continues to haunt the Crusaders as Tommy Nixon, who recently committed to Holy Cross in the NCAA will be out with a Upper Body injury giving Zac Klassen more time in the crease.
The Crusaders had no shortage of offense in December however, scoring 27 goals. Players such as Tanner Laderoute (five pts), Reid Bosse (six pts) and Tyler Maltby (eight pts) have helped out the veterans with their production and show good signs heading into the New Year.
“They continue to produce by being consistent and by playing the game the right way.” Said Fragle on those players.
Fragle will be hoping his team can pick up from where they left off in 2014 and winning their second game in a row, after picking up a 4-3 Shootout win in Drayton Valley. The Crusaders will be looking to clinch a very tight season series over the Bobcats on Saturday, all be it with only two wins in the five games played against Lloydminster so far.
The Crusaders have been able to pick up points in all five games against the Bobcats this season, thus keeping them in the driver’s seat.
The Bobcats having played last night will look to avenge a 5-2 loss against the Whitecourt Wolverines. Lloydminster comes into tonight’s game 6-2-2 in their last 10 games. The late success in 2014 has put the Bobcats in second place in the North Division.
“We need to be limiting our mistakes and force them to make some. Also Neutral zone play is always key versus Lloydminster.” Says Fragle on tonight’s game.
The season series between the Crusaders and Bobcats has been nothing less than stellar. With three of the five games having gone to Overtime or a Shootout and all five of them being one goal games, it has all the makings of a nervous playoff series if these two teams were to meet. Although Sherwood Park has scored first in every game it doesn’t translate directly into a win in all five games. What is of note, is that when the Crusaders have scored the first two goals, the Bobcats have been unable to comeback. Being down by two goals is not what either team would like to be against one another. And with the way the trend has gone in this season series, we should expect a low scoring, one goal game.
“Striking first is always important, we expect a tight one goal game to which every shift is important.” Says Fragle on playing the Bobcats.
The Bobcats will need a win in regulation to clinch the season series as a regulation tie would give the edge to the Crusaders for having more regulation wins over the Bobcats in 2014-15.
-Story By Taylor Medak