Tonight the Sherwood Park Crusaders are hoping for some recent success from earlier this season when they were able to shutout the Fort McMurray Oil Barons 3-0 at the Sherwood Park Arena on November 14th. The Crusaders are still in search of their first win in 2015 and have lost two straight games to the Oil Barons.
Sherwood Park, 12-7-2 at Home, have lost four games in a row and have only won two of their last seven games at the Sherwood Park Arena as they host the Oil Barons tonight.
The most recent loss was a tough one, a 3-2 edging by the Spruce Grove Saints on Sunday January 11th.
“It was a tight game, not a lot of room out there and it was a physical contest! It really felt like a playoff game.” Says Crusaders GM and Head Coach Tim Fragle.
And Fragle is right.
The Crusaders and Saints threw their weight around and gave up very few opportunities. It was an interesting side note that even though the Crusaders won the Special Teams battle, they were not the ones winning the game. Historically the last few seasons, the team that has won the Special Teams battle between the Saints and Crusaders, usually comes out on top. Sherwood Park shutdown the Saints on their four man advantages, but only came up with one goal out of five opportunities on the Power Play.
“The Power Play was just okay, we scored on a simple set and the Penalty Kill was good as well, we had a few fortunate bounces go for us.” Fragle says.
Unfortunately Spruce Grove had a few more bounces and lucky breaks in Sunday’s game, the biggest when Cole Nicholson notched the Saints second goal with 6.0 seconds left in the 2nd Period as three Crusaders, including Goaltender Zac Klassen, lost their sticks in the Defensive Zone.
The Crusaders have had plenty of time over the week to prepare for the Oil Barons as it is the only game for them this week and this weekend. Fragle was able to focus on a lot of details.
“We had four days of practice in a row, which is rare for us. We worked on some skills that individually we need to be better at, as well as our structure and Special Teams.” Fragle said.
As mentioned, the Crusaders have lost two games in a row to the Oil Barons and have only one win in four contests so far this season. The two losses were on back to back nights as Sherwood Park was up north in Fort McMurray for a double dip on the 12th and 13th of December. In the first game, the Crusaders were traumatized by penalties in a 6-3 loss. The second game, a lot closer, losing 2-0 thanks to 37 saves from Zac Klassen.
“We need to play with structure and make appropriate team decisions shift by shift.” Says Fragle on what his team can improve on heading into Friday night’s contest.
Appropriate team decisions is a reference to the nine 10 minute or Game Misconducts the Crusaders took over the weekend in mid December against the Oil Barons.
If the Crusaders can do that and play like they did in the 3-0 win back in November they will be successful.
“We need a good start Friday night. We played a hard game and had good team defense in our win against them.” Notes Fragle.
In that November game the Crusaders really set the pace in the 1st period putting 14 shots on Oil Baron Goaltender Zac Fortin and scoring the games first goal.
The Crusaders have fallen behind the Oil Barons in the standings. Fort McMurray sits in third place in the Viterra North Division with 54 Points, which is only one point behind second place Lloydminster. With 15 games remaining, a loss tonight could spell the end for a top two or three seed come playoff time. The pressure will be on the Crusaders as well to keep pace as Bonnyville is knocking on the door one point behind the Crusaders, who have 45, with 44 Points. If the season ended today, the two teams would once again meet in the Post Season in the four versus five matchup.
Fourth place means Home Ice in the First Round.
-Story By Taylor Medak