Sherwood Park Crusaders (16-16-2) @ Spruce Grove Saints (24-7-3) Wednesday December 20th, 2017 – 7:00pm
Media: AJHL WebTV
SHERWOOOD PARK, AB – There is much on the line Wednesday night as the Sherwood Park Crusaders look for their fifth consecutive win when they travel to Spruce Grove to take on the Saints. The Crusaders bring their season high winning streak into the Grove, coming off a pair of victories on the road last weekend in Drumheller and Olds.
“I thought Friday against the Dragons we weren’t particularly sharp in the first 40 minutes of the game. Our goaltending wasn’t where it needed to be to start. Give Brandon Vogel credit for coming in and playing great in the back 40 minutes of that game. In the third period, our power play came though for us and got us the victory.” Said Crusaders Head Coach Adam Manah on the team’s play in Drumheller.
“Saturday in Olds, the first 10 minutes were a little shaky, but we played excellent after that, it was the more complete game out of the two last weekend. Sometimes you aren’t going to be the sharpest, but you have to find ways to win, and that’s what we did.” Added Manah.
There were many positives out of last weekend, starting with the play of netminder Brandon Vogel, who stopped 44 of the 45 shots he faced in five periods of work.
Vogel replaced Joshua Dechaine to start the second period, who allowed three goals on 14 shots in the first period against Drumheller on Friday.
“It was a little bit different as I didn’t get the chance to prepare like I would normally if I was starting the game. I had a bit of time after the first period to get focused and visualize what I had to do.” Said Vogel on coming in cold.
“All you want from your backup, if he has to come in is to give your team a chance and not allow any goals and give your team a chance, and that’s what [Vogel] did.” Noted Manah.
Vogel was able to carry things over into Saturday’s game against the Grizzlys stopping 27 of 28 shots in the 4-1 victory for the Crusaders.
Wednesday will be Vogel’s first opportunity to be in goal against Spruce Grove.
This past weekend also marked the return of two offensive catalysts in Forward Ty Readman and Defenseman Tyler Pang.
Readman got back up in the lineup Friday with a goal and two assists, while Pang was back in for the first time in 14 games on Saturday against Olds, picking up the game winning goal and one assist.
“Readman was going into a tough rink against a tough opponent on Friday, he really came through when we needed him to on the power play in the third. His timing might have been a little off and out of sync, but Saturday he was back to his old self. Roaming around the offensive zone, zipping his teammates the puck and simply making plays.” Said Manah on Readman.
“Pang was very good on Saturday, we weren’t sure how he was going to fit back in the mold. He was exceptional, very good defensively. He brings everything to the table, five on five and on the power play, he was very good.” Said Manah on his Defenseman.
With the team having won four in a row, things have aligned perfectly for one last big test for the Crusaders before the holiday break.
Sherwood Park is arguably one of the hottest teams in the league right now and is looking to extend their season high winning streak, and if things go their way Wednesday night, the team could be sitting in a home ice playoff spot going into the unofficial halfway point of the AJHL regular season.
But the catch, is facing a very good Spruce Grove Saint squad that is looking to head into Christmas on a positive note as well.
With a win Wednesday, Spruce Grove could tie themselves for first place in the Viterra North Division with Fort McMurray.
The Crusaders will be in tough as they are 0-2-0 and have had no answer for the Saints in their 5-2 and 4-1 victories at the Sherwood Park Arena this season.
“They’ve been the better team in both games, maybe we weren’t quite ready for them earlier in the year as we struggled against the high end teams but now all of a sudden the light switch has turned on for our young guys. We now know what it takes to play against these teams. Spruce Grove is a team we have to get over the hump against, we have to treat it like any other game. They are not superior to us, they area good team and anyone cane beat them. We have to go into that game feeling we can beat them.” Said Manah on playing the Saints.
Sherwood Park has every bit of right to feel confident heading into the hockey game Wednesday night, from top to bottom in terms of how the lineup is playing, the stage is set for the team to make an impression and set the tone to the rest of the division heading into the latter half of the season.
“We are really excited for Wednesday’s game, it’s not only going to be a good matchup, because they are one of those high end teams, but to see where we are at from the last time we played them in October. We went through a lot of adversity, especially with injuries the last month. Our team has seemed to get better in a lot of areas and hopefully Wednesday in Spruce Grove we can rise up and answer the bell.” Says Manah on Wednesday’s game.
Sherwood Park will look to improve their record to 17-16-2 and grab their ninth win on the road this season. It will be solid week off for the Cursaders for their holiday break as they will resume play next week with a double dip in Fort McMurray on the 29th and 30th.
-Story by Taylor Medak