The Sherwood Park Crusaders are amidst their toughest stretch of games so far this season, and when the 2014-15 Regular Season is complete, we may look back on this as being the toughest stretch of games for the Cru. Starting with Spruce Grove on the 26th of October, Sherwood Park has played Lloydminster, Okotoks and starting Wednesday, begin 3 straight on the road, first in Lloydminster, then Camrose on Friday and Fort McMurray on Saturday. The Cru have gone 1-1-1 in these first 3 games and have Points in 6 of their last 7 games.
“With so many good teams in the league, it makes it difficult to play in back to back games as well as 3 games in 4 nights for us this week. This stretch is definitely a tough one for us. On the positive side, it will be a good test to see where we are as a team.” Says Crusaders GM and Head Coach Tim Fragle.
The test will resume Wednesday night in Lloydminster and the Crusaders will try and bounce back against the Bobcats after losing a week ago to them in Overtime at the Sherwood Park Arena.
Sherwood Park will be coming into Wednesday’s game riding the momentum of a big win this past Sunday over the Okotoks Oilers. Tommy Nixon had a 23 save shutout as the Crusaders took down the top team in the Viterra South Division 2-0. The Crusaders also snapped a 0 for 20 drought on the Power Play as Cole Gammer scored the eventual game winning goal in the 1st period. But the story of the game was the play of Tommy Nixon, who rebounded well after his last start which was a 4-1 loss to Spruce Grove, but the Sherwood Park native was quick to credit the players in front of him.
“[Stephen] Shmoorkoff stole about 17 saves from me, [Dane] Phaneuf had a couple huge [blocks], [Brett] Magee made a couple of toe saves as well. So those guys were blocking and that’s all I can ask from them. They made it easy for me to play out there.” Nixon says about Sunday’s win.
“We’re learning to play in these tight games, learning how to deal with that adversity right now and growing as a team and as a family.” Nixon added
It will be fair to say the Crusaders have learned from the ups and downs in the recent close games and will definitely use that to their advantage heading into the week ahead.
Part of the success as well on Sunday was the defensive play of Center Ryan Kruper, the veteran won several draws late in the 3rd period against Okotoks Forward Rhett Gardner.
“I like taking faceoffs against the top guys in the league. It’s a test and I’ve been practicing a lot in practice and it showed the work has been paying off.” Kruper notes.
“We’re biased, we think he is one of the better two way Centermen in the league, he’s hard to play against, he’s physical. He may not have that flash and dash but you can win hockey games with guys like him.” Says Fragle about Kruper.
“It was a nice feeling beating that team, and knowing we can beat one of the premiere teams in the league. It’s nice to show that defensive ability, especially when [Nixon] is playing well and we can lock it down, it’s like a playoff game and one that we can win.” Kruper says.
On another bright note heading into Wednesday’s game, the Crusaders remain undefeated in regulation this year against the Bobcats in 3 games. However, Lloydminster has 2 wins coming in a Shootout and most recent in Overtime.
You can expect another tight defensive battle between the 2 clubs as they battle for sole possession of 2nd place in the North Viterra Division. Execution will be the difference in Wednesday’s game and taking advantage of the few mistakes either team makes.
“We have to do a better job at generating more offense against them, last game against them we had more opportunities, we didn’t shoot the puck enough. So we have to have a simple mindset and put pucks on net and force their goalie to be well.” Says Fragle on going into Lloydminster Wednesday night.
Friday will mark the only visit of the season for the Crusaders to the Rose city as they take on the Camrose Kodiaks who are ranked 9th in the Canadian Junior Hockey League Rankings and up until recently, have been, at the top of the Viterra South Division for most of the year.
“They’re deep, they’re physical, hard to play against and have been getting exceptional goaltending from [Devin] McDonald so we will have our hands full there. I think they’ll be very similar to Okotoks and we cannot take a shift off.” Says Fragle on the Kodiaks.
The Kodiaks are led offensively by Forward Ryker Leer who has 21 Points including 17 Assists and as mentioned by Fragle, Goaltender Devin McDonald has played well with 11 Wins 3 Shutouts a 1.68 Goals Against Average and a .942 Save Percentage.
Saturday the Crusaders wrap up the week with their first visit and meeting this season with the Fort McMurray Oil Barons at the Casman Centre. The Oil Barons have been known to be the bench mark teams in the AJHL the past 14 years but have struggled a bit in the early part of the 2014-15 Regular Season as they have gone 2-5-3 in their last 10 but still sit 3 Points back of both Sherwood Park and Lloydminster for 2nd place in the Division heading into the rest of the week.
“Up there you got to get out and have a good start, and build your momentum from there. We are going to see a lot of them in the coming months so it’s a good chance to see where we’re at against them.” Says Fragle on Saturday night’s game.
The Crusaders will return home Wednesday November 12th for 3 straight games going up against Whitecourt, Fort McMurray and Drumheller.
-Story By Taylor Medak