Before their series started with the Fort McMurray Oil Barons, the Sherwood Park Crusaders knew that they would have to win at least one game on the road at the Casman Centre in Fort McMurray. That feat was accomplished in Game One of the Viterra North Division Quarter Finals and now the Crusaders hold home ice advantage in the series after splitting Games One and Two with the MOB.
“It was good to strike first and get the win in Game One. Game Two was a tight battle that we came up short in.” Says Crusaders GM and Head Coach Tim Fragle.
The Crusaders were unable to carryover the timely scoring that had got them the victory. Oil Barons Goaltender Zach Fortin turned away all 32 shots he faced in Game Two’s 2-0 victory after allowing all three goals in the Crusaders 3-2 Game One win.
Part of the early success in this series was the Crusaders ability to generate shots from the point, all three Crusader goals in Game One were by products of Defensemen getting shots through. Stephen Shmoorkoff scored the game winner and captain Dane Phaneuf had a goal and an assist in the victory.
“The series is going good, we are in a good spot. My game has been good and same with the whole teams.” Says Phaneuf.
Before Game One the Crusaders said they would have to get shots through to the net and bodies in front looking for screens and tips, they were able to do that in the first game but unfortunately Fortin was on his game for the MOB in Game 2.
“We have to generate offense in a variety of ways and that was they way we had the most success in Game One.” Fragle notes.
“We have to stick to our game plan and worry about what we can do, not what Fort McMurray is doing.” Phaneuf adds.
Special Teams have been interesting in this series so far with both teams going a combined 1/9 on the Power Play. Sherwood Park has had to only kill off three penalties as they have played very discipline thus far.
“We’ve been strong in both areas, Penalty Kill and discipline, and it needs to continue.” Says Fragle.
The one hiccup unfortunately on Special Teams, and it’s a big one, was allowing the game winning goal while on the Power Play in the second period in Game 2 when a missed offensive zone faceoff assignment turned into a two on one that saw Mitch Vanderlaan of the Oil Barons pot one past Zac Klassen. The Crusaders allowed 10 Short Handed Goals in the Regular Season, which was tied for second worst in the AJHL.
The biggest story line in the series so far has been the Goaltending. Before the series started man were wondering who Head Coach and GM Tim Fragle might start between the pipes as Tommy Nixon is healthy and now in a backup roll after Zac Klassen started Game One leading the Crusaders to victory and turned away 28 of 29 shots in Game Two.
It’s been the battle of the Zac(h)s in the first 2 games.
“[Zach] Fortin was good. We did have five or six chances that we needed to finish off and on the other had [Zac] Klassen has been soild and has given us a chance to win both games.” Fragle says on the Goaltending.
Although the Crusaders have shown the ability to comeback and win games in the Regular Season, it is that much harder to come back in the Playoffs, a case that was evident Friday night. The Crusaders were forced to chase the game in the second half of it and also having to deal with a goal being disallowed.
“We played more confident with lead in Game One. We did have an early goal disallowed in Game Two which was disappointing.” Added Fragle.
The Crusaders hope their play against the Oil Barons in the Regular Season at the Sherwood Park Arena carries over into Game Three and Four on Sunday and Monday night. Sherwood Park had two shutouts and held the Oil Barons to one goal in the three games they played at the Sherwood Park Arena.
“If we stick to our game things will work out for us, the whole team is ready for Game Three and are excited to play in our barn.” Says Captain Dane Phaneuf.
A large crowd is anticipated for both Games Three and Four with the possibility of the Crusaders clinching the series on home ice.
“The keys will be trying to be more consistent and intense in all areas of our game.” Says Fragle.
The Crusaders have done a good job on slowing down the Oil Barons top scorer from the Regular Season in Jetlan Houcher, who only has the Empty Net goal from Game Two. Houcher is always a threat who does have two assists in the series so far, but the Crusaders have forced the issue and taken away prime time scoring opportunities from Houcher.
A good start for the Crusaders will be key in Game Three, we can now use the common stat in the playoffs of the team that scores first wins the game. Sherwood Park scored first in Game One and the Oil Barons went ahead first in Game Two.
The Game One win was the fifth playoff series in a row the Crusaders had taken the first game. A win in Game Three would move Sherwood Park a win away from wrapping up a playoff series on home ice for the first time since 2013.
Story By Taylor Medak