Crusaders/Saints Pick Up, Where They Left Off

Sherwood Park Crusaders (0-0-0) VS Spruce Grove Saints (0-0-0) September 16th, 2016 – 7:00 PM

Media: AJHL WebTV

Sherwood Park Crusaders (0-0-0)* @ Spruce Grove Saints (0-0-0) September 17th, 2016 – 7:00 PM

Media: AJHL WebTV, Saints Radio Network 

It feels like yesterday that the Sherwood Park Crusaders and Spruce Grove Saints were duking it out in the 2016 Gas Drive Cup playoffs, and come this weekend the two Capital region franchises will renew acquaintances but beginning new era’s in their teams’ history as they open up the AJHL Regular Season with a Home and Home in Sherwood Park and Spruce Grove.

A lot has changed for the both the Crusaders and Saints since the two clubs last met in Game Four of the North Division Semi Finals in last season’s AJHL Playoffs.  Both teams having shakeups on the bench as two new Head Coaches will make their AJHL debut Friday evening in Sherwood Park.  Adam Manah for the Crusaders and Michael Ringrose for the Saints.

It marks the first time in six years that both teams start the season with a new bench boss, as former Crusader GM and Coach Tim Fragle has moved on to the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and former Saints GM and Head Coach Jason McKee opted for the Head Coach position with the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League.

Although there are new faces on bench and, like always in Junior hockey, new players on the ice, there are plenty of familiar faces returning to the Crusaders lineup and couldn’t be more pleased to be opening up the 2016-17 AJHL Regular Season against the Saints.

“It’s a good way for us to start the year.”  Says Crusader veteran Tyler Maltby.

The AJHL Goal scoring leader in 2015-16 was thought to be headed to Arizona State University this fall, but has in fact elected to finish out his Junior career before heading off to the Sun Devils next season.  The Sherwood Park product is looking forward to showing the young players on the roster what the Crusader/Saints rivalry is all about.

“It’s going to show the younger guys how truly significant this rivalry is, and the intensity they’ll need to bring each night.”  Added Maltby.

And plenty of young  players will get thrown right into the fire, especially on the blue line.

Newly appointed Captain Ben Sowa and Defenseman Ben McLeod will be out of the lineup as they finish serving their Two Game suspensions, stemming from a line brawl near the end of Game Three of last season’s Playoff series against the Saints.

A total of 165 AJHL Games experience under the six Defensemen the Crusaders will dress Friday night.  Chase Torontow has 156 Games under his belt and the next closest is Koletrane Wilson at nine.  Rookies Jacob Thomas, Keegan McBride, Blair Bush and Brett Roberts all make their Alberta Junior Hockey League debut Friday night.

“We like the mix we have between the eight [Defensemen] and we are excited to see how that all gels.”  Noted Manah.

The Saints will also have a bit of a younger lineup as well have a strong contingent of returning Forwards and experienced acquisitions from the Summer.

Forward Nicolas Correale is the highest returning scorer from last year’s Saints squad with 41 Points.  Off Season acquisitions Brett Smythe and Eric Benshadle will provide primary threats along with Correale, while veterans Josh Harris and Connor Lukan round out the top six with first year Saint Cody Young, who was acquired from Kindersley of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.

Sherwood Park will counter act with a mix of young and old this weekend against Spruce Grove.  As mentioned, Tyler Maltby returns to the Crusader lineup and will be a threat with the likes of Darcy Zaharichuk, Cole Chorney and Ty Readman as they were four of the top eight scorers from the Crusaders last year.  The likes of Matthew Dykstra, Merritt Ozytko and Alex Rotundo will look to have bigger impacts in their second season with the Cru.

GM Kyle Chase was able to fill the holes in the Forward group with some good Junior experience.

Joining the Crusaders are the likes of Jarred McAmmond, who spent the last two seasons with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League, and Tanner Younghans, who has spent all of his Junior career with the Camrose Kodiaks, looks to make an immediate impact in the Crusaders lineup.

A player who has the potential to replicate with Ty Readman did last season as a rookie is Arjun Atwal.  The Edmonton, AB Native comes to the Crusaders from the South Side Athletic Club in Edmonton where he led the Alberta Midget Hockey League in scoring with 53 Points, 22 Goals and 31 Assists.

Sherwood Park has never had the AMHL leading scorer on their team.

Defensively the Saints come into the game and season with arguably the best Defenseman in the AJHL.  Ian Mitchell anchors a Saint blue line that loses some notables from their division winning team in 2015-16.  But Mitchell will be the one to watch in the first two games if the Crusaders are to be successful.

Coming off a 27 Point rookie campaign, the Calahoo, AB product enters his second season in the AJHL with a lot of hype.  Touted to potentially be a high pick in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft, the Denver University commit is coming off a summer that saw him represent Canada at the annual Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.

For the first time in a while the Crusaders have the edge in Goaltending against the Saints.  Zac Klassen is the clear cut number one in Sherwood Park and will go toe to toe Friday against an unknown is Spruce Grove. 

With last year’s AJHL Top Goaltender Matthew Murray departing to the United States Hockey League, the Saints enter Friday with three Goaltenders on their roster, the most experience coming from Michael Barabash, who appeared in 18 Games last season with Nipawin of the SJHL.

Backing up Klassen is Granby, Quebec Native Dorian Laganiere-Labranche, a 1998 born 6’1 Goaltender who has Prep School experience in Quebec. DLL, as we’ll most likely abbreviate him throughout this year, will certainly push for time in the crease.

Sherwood Park will truly hope they can kick off the 2016-17 campaign with a victory as three of their four games to start the year will be away from the Sherwood Park Arena, they were 22-6-1 at Home in 2015-16.

As always the case, Special Teams and limiting mistakes will be key against Spruce Grove this weekend and getting the Saints to play out of their comfort zone is also a must.

There really is no better time of the year, and come Friday night, it’s time to play hockey.

-Story By Taylor Medak

photo courtest of Target Photography