The Sherwood Park Crusaders are looking to make a push for the coveted 3rd place seed in the North Division, while Spruce Grove and Fort McMurray battle for a first round bye, there are a plethora of teams that can potentially finish 3rd. With a win last Saturday over the Grande Prairie Storm, the Cru set themselves up for a big opportunity this weekend. The Crusaders are 6 points behind the Lloydminster Bobcats for that 3rd place spot in the North Division. Coincidently enough, the Bobcats and Crusaders clash Friday and Saturday night with a home and home series that sees Lloydminster visit Sherwood Park Friday night and the rematch Saturday afternoon at 5pm. Sherwood Park will finish off the weekend back at home Sunday afternoon against the Drayton Valley Thunder.
Sherwood Park hopes to carry the momentum generated in last weeks 7-1 win over Grande Prairie. A fantastic offensive output from the likes of Nicholas Jones, Sean MacTavish and Andrew Taverner, plus some stellar goaltending from Tommy Nixon.
“I thought we were really strong in the 2nd and 3rd periods as well as winning the Special Teams battle were key.” Says Crusaders GM and Head Coach Tim Fragle.
The Special Teams for the Crusaders have been outstanding since returning from the Christmas break. Sherwood Park is 10 for 19 on the Power Play (53%) and has killed off 15 of 16 penalties (94%) as well. Fragle had harped on his Power Play units to move the puck faster in the offensive zone and his Penalty Kill to be more aggressive.
“Short hard shifts are key on the Penalty Kill, forecheck has been strong and are clears as well.” Fragle noted about the Penalty Kill.
The victory against Grande Prairie may have been an offensive domination but Fragle still credits the victory in large part to his teams play in their own zone.
“We’ve had games this year in terms of offense, but I really feel we played really strong in our defensive zone.” Fragle said.
Now the focus is on Lloydminster, a 2 game set against a team they trail by 6 points in the standings but have 4 games in hand on . If things go well for the Crusaders they can be the ones sitting in 3rd come Sunday evening. However with the Bobcats next 4 games, 3 of them are against Sherwood Park and they have a chance to pull away from the Cru.
Fragle doesn’t completely feel these next 4 games will dictate where the season will go, if it goes either way for Sherwood Park.
“Potentially, but we just want to take it a game at a time.” Fragle says.
And that’s what the Crusaders will need to focus on.
Part of their lack of consistency for the better part of the season has been a great game one night, followed up by an undesired result. Fortunately the Crusaders can come into the game Friday night with some confidence as they have defeated the Bobcats twice this season.
“The starts in both wins were key in being successful against Lloydminster.” Fragle said.
In the last win versus the Bobcats, Sherwood Park was able to answer quickly to an opening goal by Lloydminster and follow it up with a 3 goal 2nd period to get the 5-2 victory on October 6th.
The Power Play will be tested as Lloydminster has one of the best Penalty Kills in the AJHL with an added 13 Short Handed goals.
The rematch on Saturday will be a very special one for the Lloydminster Bobcats as it will be Hockey Day in Canada in the Border City. CBC Television will be broadcasting nationally all day from the city and as well during parts of the game between the Crusaders and Bobcats. Ron MacLean and Don Cherry will broadcast Coaches Corner from the Civic Centennial Arena in Lloydminster. It is expected that Ron and Don will drop the puck for the ceremonial face off. With everything going on focus will be key come Saturday
“Starts are key every night but really important in a game where there will be a lot of distractions.” Fragle added.
Once the Crusaders are finished with the 2 game set against Lloydminster, the focus will be turned to Drayton Valley, who sits in 8th place in the North Division. It has been a while since the Crusaders have played 3 games in 3 days, and when it’s broken down it is 3 games in 43 hours.
Fragle feels his group is prepared physically.
“We’ve had a few good weeks of practice and training.”
Drayton Valley is still in the hunt for the playoffs as they are 2 points back of the Grande Prairie Storm heading into Friday and although they traded away their leading scorer at the trade deadline in Nathan Smith, the Thunder cannot be taken lightly. Fragle expects more of team game on Sunday from Drayton Valley.
“Absolutely, that [team game] has been a big reason for their improved play, plus they have great goaltending.”
Drayton Valley has played Sherwood Park well this season, picking up a shutout victory at home and as well a 4-3 win in Sherwood Park. The season series is tied at 2 games.
Puck drop Friday night against the Bobcats is 7pm and Sunday afternoon at 2:15pm versus Drayton Valley, tickets are available at the Crusaders Box office right up until game time or call 780-417-1175 for tickets.
If you are interested in attending the Saturday game in Lloydminster, please contact the Lloydminster Bobcats as the game in tentatively sold out, visit http://www.lloydminsterbobcats.ca for office contact information.