It was the result Crusader fans were hoping for but how they got it, no one thought it would be done in that fashion. Sweeping the Bonnyville Pontiacs out of the Playoffs. Even those around the organization thought the Best of 5 series would go longer than 3 games. But if you’re the Crusaders, you’ll take it and move on.
Prior to Game 3 it was even harder to imagine that the Crusaders were up 2-0 in the series against the Pontiacs. They had only led 2 minutes and 42 seconds yet still came out with 2 victories. The 5-3 win in Game 3 vindicated the Crusaders omission of dominance you might see in a series where a team leads 2-0. The Crusaders were able to get out to a start they had been looking for in the first 2 games, with 3 goals in the opening 20 minutes.
“We knew we had to be better than we were in Games 1 and 2. It was key in the win.” Say Crusader GM and Head Coach Tim Fragle.
The success in the 1st period was thanks in large part to the play of Sean MacTavish, who scored his first 2 goals of the Post Season.
“We knew Game 3 was going to be a battle, with some of our top guys out we knew they were going to try and take advantage of that.” Said MacTavish.
The “Top Guys” MacTavish reffered to were Forward Andrew Taverner and Defenseman Marshall Donald.
“In the first 2 games I wasn’t great, I knew I had to step up in Game 3 and thanks to my linemates [Nicholas] Jones and [Colten] Meaver, I was able to do that.” MacTavish added.
MacTavish opened the scoring in the 1st period on a wide open chance, and then with the help of Jones and Meaver, was able to put the Crusaders in the driver seat up 3-1.
Colten Meaver was not finished in the 1st period, he was able to get the Game Winning Goal for the 2nd straight game, this time on the Power Play early in the 3rd period.
“[Colten] is really skating and going to the dirty areas.” Fragle notes about Meaver, who has found some recent chemistry with Jones and MacTavish.
The Crusaders continually had to pull ahead in Game 3 as Bonnyville pushed and pushed. Bonnyville came within one goal after Pontiac veteran Redford Swan had scored on the Power Play. Special teams were a factor in favor of the Crusaders despite having some hiccups prior to game 3.
“Our Penalty Kill needs to be better but we did have some huge kills in Game 3.” Fragle said.
One of those kills came during the final minutes with under 3 minutes to play. The Crusaders held their own and Captain Dillon Massie was able to ice things with an empty net goal with 32 seconds to play.
“We had timely goals in Games 1 and 2, we played a hard game with structure throughout the series. We progressively got better each game and as each game went on. Says Fragle looking back on the 3 game sweep.
Sunday’s win marked the first time in 11 years the Crusaders swept a series, coincidently it was the same team, the Bonnyville Pontiacs in the North Dvision Semi-Finals. The Crusaders went on to lose to the then St. Albert Saints in 5 games in the North Division Final that season.
If the Crusaders are to return to the 3rd round of the Playoffs for the first time since that 2003 season, they will have to either go through Spruce Grove or Fort McMurray. Sherwood Park is awaiting the result of the Lloydminster/Whitecourt series, which will conclude Wednesday night, to see who they will play in the 2nd round. The 2nd round in the AJHL Playoffs will begin Friday, and the Crusaders will be either starting in Fort McMurray if Whitecourt wins tomorrow night, or they will start a little closer to home in Spruce Grove if Lloydminster is able to pick up a Game 5 victory.
The Crusader home dates have yet to be determined. For updates regarding the 2nd round schedule, please follow the Crusaders on Twitter, @SPCru.