There’s a saying that defines the word insanity, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. This statement couldn’t be more wrong if you look at the Sherwood Park Crusaders and Bonnyville Pontiacs rivalry in the last 7 seasons. Thursday night will mark the 5th time in 7 seasons the 2 North Division teams have met in the post season. And if the hockey gods are the ones continually matching these teams up, the same result is happening.
The Pontiacs have won 3 of the 4 series with the Crusaders winning the most recent one in 2012 in 5 games.
Both teams are entering the playoffs having lost 2 games in a row and are looking to get on the right track with a game 1 win Thursday night.
“The losses against Spruce Grove and Grande Prairie were close games that we just came up short in but not for lack of offensive chances.” Says Crusader GM and Head Coach Tim Fragle.
The Crusaders finished off their 35th regular season with a record of 29-28-3 with 61 points to finish 4th in the North Division, they were in the race for 3rd place right till the bitter end only to fall a few points short of Lloydminster.
“You always want to get home ice and be in the top 4, so that’s a positive but felt that we were very inconsistent at times.” Fragle added.
The inconsistency that Fragle speaks of was the fact in the middle part of the season, the Crusaders had a tough time putting stretches of wins together but when they could, you could compare them with the likes of Spruce Grove and Fort McMurray.
There were many consistent efforts from individuals on this Crusader team throughout the regular season, that was evident with the 2 leading scorers.
“I thought that [Nicholas] Jones and [Sean] MacTavish made huge strides in their development this year.” Says Fragle when asked who has impressed him this season.
Nicolas Jones, who was nominated for league MVP, scored the most goals in the AJHL this season with 41, while it was a coming out party this year for Sean MacTavish as he put up 72 points to finish tied for 3rd in league scoring along with Jones.
The Crusaders hope that offensive prowess can carry over in the playoffs against the Pontiacs.
As mentioned before, the series between the Crusaders and Pontiacs will mark the 5th time in 7 seasons the 2 teams will meet in the post season. The Crusaders won the last series in 2012 in 5 games.
“We were an older team 2 years ago and we were very banged up in that series.” Says Fragle on the differences between the 2014 and 2012 teams.
The Crusaders will be able to ice a much healthier lineup this time around, with the exception of Caleb Belter being listed as day to day and a game time decision.
Sherwood Park will look to carry over their intensity and structure that has helped them out all season long into this Best of 5 series with the Pontiacs. The Crusaders were very successful against Bonnyville this season, winning the season series 4 games to 2.
The 2 losses to the Pontiacs came both at home and away and in 2 different results, an 8-6 loss on the road in Bonnyville and a 1-0 at home, Fragle expects the latter result to be more indicative of what the series will be like, hopefully in his teams favor.
“I expect a tight checking low scoring series.” Noted Fragle.
Both teams have the ability to score, one of the big players the Crusaders will have to shutdown is Spencer Foo of the Pontiacs. Foo led Bonnyville in scoring with 40 goals and 67 points.
Along with scoring ability, both teams have a lot of veteran experience in all areas of the ice, one thing Fragle knows will be key in this series.
“Depth, Goaltending and Special Teams will be what this series comes down to.” Fragle said.
Goaltending will be key and Crusaders netminder Tommy Nixon will hope history is on his side as in the series in 2012 the Crusaders had a rookie Goaltender in Matt Tomkins help the Crusaders get the series victory over the Pontiacs in 5 games.
Games 1 and 2 will be played Thursday and Friday night at the Sherwood Park Arena. The series will then shift to Bonnyville Sunday night for Game 3 and if necessary Game 4 will be Monday night in Bonnyville and if the series is pushed to a 5th and deciding game, it will be played next Wednesday, the 12th of March at the Sherwood Park Arena.