The Crusaders returned to the Sherwood Park Arena on January 26th and 27th looking to rebound after a tough stretch.
While 2019 hasn't been as kind to the Crusaders thus far as they would have liked, last weekend's back-to-back games were a perfect chance to return to form. They did that in spades over their two games, and though the weekend split may not indicate it, it was a return to the usual form for the team.
Saturday evening saw the Fort McMurray Oil Barons head to town to take on the Crusaders for the fifth time this season. Though the Crusaders held a 3-1 record over the MOB heading into the action, Fort McMurray had outscored the Cru by a single goal through their four contests.
The Sherwood Park Arena was packed on Saturday evening, as over 1,100 fans were on hand to watch the rival MOB and Crusaders face off. Neither team was able to gain an early advantage, with only a pair of Oil Barons penalties handed out in the first ten minutes. However, while the Oil Barons were the first to the box, they were also the first to score in the evening's affair as Reed Morrison scored with slightly over two minutes to play in the period.
The second period was much like the first. While neither team was dominant, both created a multitude of opportunities. However, Brayden Koch and Chad MacLean were able to collect tallies for the MOB, giving them a 3-0 lead heading into the third period. While Jacob Franczak was able to score in the final stanza, it wasn't enough as the Crusaders fell 3-1.
Following that tough loss, the Crusaders were given no time to dwell on the defeat and were forced immediately back into action on Sunday for an afternoon game versus the Drumheller Dragons.
Sherwood Park was given an opportunity on the powerplay early when Dragons F Brayden Nichollets was called for elbowing six minutes into the game. Then, just seven seconds into the man advantage a quick passing play from Carter Savoie to Will Zapernick to Arjun Atwal gave the Crusaders a 1-0 with Atwal’s 17th of the season.
In the second period, after killing off a 5-on-3 penalty, the Crusaders fourth line of Zafir Rawji, Brayden Hyland, and Tanner Fincaryk pinned the Dragons in their end exhausting them which soon turned into a goal from Michael Benning who went bar down on Daniel Allin to make it 2-0. A third goal came shortly after on the powerplay when a Carter Savoie shot caught a couple of men in front and squeezed by Allin to give the Cru a 3-0 lead. Brett Edwards did get the Dragons on the board, however, in the same period on a shorthanded attempt. To round out the second frame, Jack Hamly, who was playing in his 200th AJHL career game, showed off his hands and took the puck around a couple of Dragons defencemen to score his 10th of the season.
Finally, in the third period, the scoring continued for the Crusaders with another highlight reel goal. After sitting for two minutes for tripping, Benning found himself on a two-on-one breakaway with Jacob Franczak. A soft little saucer pass from Franczak over to Benning was finished off with a quick backhand to forehand deke around a stretched out Allin to get his first career two-goal game. To round out the scoring in the game, Drumheller did score once more midway through the third period from Shane Ott.
On the night, Matt Berlin made 33 saves on 35 attempts to pick up his 23rd win of the season, and the Crusaders moved within one point of the Bonnyville Pontiacs for first place in the Viterra North Division.
Next up, the Crusaders take on the Grande Prairie Storm on Friday evening. Tickets are available online or one hour prior to puck drop at the Crusaders box office.