Crusaders VS Fort McMurray – Friday September 18th – 7:00 PM
Crusaders VS Bonnyville – Sunday September 20th – 2:15 PM
Media: AJHL Web TV
The Sherwood Park Crusaders will look to have their best start to a Regular Season since 2011-12 as they resume play this weekend. With wins against Fort McMurray Friday and Sunday against Bonnyville the Crusaders can start the season 4-0, they started 5-0, four seasons ago.
It’s easier said than done as the Crusaders have had six days off since their last game which ended in a shootout on the road in Grande Prairie, 4-3.
“We were just okay [last weekend], we are challenging our players to be more consistent.” Says Crusaders GM and Head Coach Tim Fragle.
Although the Crusaders won both their games to start the Regular Season, both in Grande Prairie against the Storm, it was the way the won that may have been disconcerting to Fragle and the coaching staff, being forced to comeback down 4-0 opening night, and squandering a 3-0 after the 1st Period last Saturday.
One of the bright spots for the Crusaders, other than picking up four points, was the play of Forward Ryan Kruper. The fourth year Crusader came up big last Friday and Saturday scoring two goals and adding two assists in Friday’s game, scoring the 5-4 Overtime winner, and on Saturday netting the winning goal in the shootout for the Crusaders in the 4-3 victory.
“We were a little hot and cold in both games, but we showed a lot of character winning both games in extra time and coming back to win in the first game, we need to focus on 60 minute games. Rather than half games.” Says Kruper.
Playing 60 minutes seems to be the pre requisite when playing games against Viterra North Division opponents, something that will be needed to be successful this weekend for Sherwood Park.
“We need to have commitment to team defense, discipline and team structure.” Says Fragle in preparation for the two weekend contests.
“[It’s always] big division battles with Fort McMurray. We both play the game the right way so it will be a good test for our group.” Fragle adds.
The Oil Barons are experiencing a bit of a turnover as they are coming off a disappointing Post Season. Not only were they eliminated early on in the Gas Drive Cup Playoffs at the hands of the Crusaders last season but also saw disappointing results as the hosts of the Western Canada Cup.
There is also a new bench boss for the MOB, Tom Keca takes over as GM and Head Coach for Curtis Hunt who bolted for the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders and left Keca with not a whole lot.
The strength of the Oil Barons will be in goal as they acquired Ravi Dattani for the Calgary Mustangs this past summer, Dattani is one of the most experienced Goalies in the AJHL and is touted as one of the best amongst coaches around the league.
“I always like playing Fort McMurray, it’s going to be nice to play at home for the first time this year, it’s always a tough rivalry between the two of us.” Notes Kruper on playing the MOB.
Sunday will mark an early visit from one of the Crusaders biggest rivals, the Bonnyville Pontiacs, a team that soared up the division standings in 2015 to finish a respectable third place in the Viterra North Division and reaching their first ever North Division Final.
“I expect to see a structured team that will play very hard.” Said Fragle.
We should also see a desperate team. The Pontiacs will start this weekend’s action at 0-3 and will be playing their third game in two and a half days when they come to the Sherwood Park Arena on Sunday afternoon. Bonnyville has been outscored 15-5 in their first three games.
“They’re always going to be a tough and be a gritty team, it’s always a battle between the two of us and I really hope we come out on top on Sunday.” Adds Kruper.
Early on in the season it is tough to gage your opponent, the Crusaders must stick to their game plan and worry about their game in order to be successful this weekend. Expect Goaltender Zac Klassen to start in goal for the Crusaders Friday night, the veteran turned away 37 of 44 shots last weekend, a number that Klassen will look to improve on I’m sure.
Players To Watch: For the Crusaders this weekend, it will be interesting to see if Ryan Kruper picks up where he left off, speaking of picking up where he left off, Forward Tyler Maltby had 2 goals in Saturday’s shootout victory, will the big forward keep the ball rolling. For the weekend opponents, MOB Goaltender Ravi Dattani should see the net Friday night but not out of the realm of possibility is to see rookie backup Eric Szudor, who was perfect in the pre season game against the Crusaders in early September. Upfront for the Oil Barons, Logan Franz is the highest scoring player returning from last year’s team, the MOB have only scored one goal in their two games this season, both losses to Spruce Grove, Franz will be a guy that needs to get it going for the Oil Barons to have success. As for Sunday’s opponent the Bonnyville Pontiacs, they have generated offense from the point so far this season, Defensemen Erik Donald and Brinson Pasichnuk have three and two points respectively and have combined for three of the teams five goals so far this season.
-Story By Taylor Medak