Sunday marks the final home game of the 2014-15 Regular Season for the Sherwood Park Crusaders. Sherwood Park has been one of the better teams on home ice in the Alberta Junior Hockey League this season going 18-9-2 and looking to avoid double digit regulation losses and surpass their win total last year at the Sherwood Park Arena by one.
In order to accomplish that they will need to beat one of the hottest teams in the AJHL in the Bonnyville Pontiacs. Winners of four in a row and points in their last 12, the Pontiacs are looking for their best finish in over nine seasons as they chase down the second place Lloydminster Bobcats.
The Crusaders said goodbye to the hopes of home ice advantage in the first round of the Gas Drive Cup Playoffs when the Pontiacs defeated the Spruce Grove Saints Friday night 3-2 in Overtime. Sherwood Park now must fend off the Drayton Valley Thunder who are four points back of the Crusaders for fifth in the division.
Fifth is the highest the Crusaders can finish in the Viterra North Division standings.
Although the Crusaders lead the season series 3-2, the Pontiacs have won the last two and most recently embarrassed Sherwood Park on home ice, 6-0.
“We need a good start, last game against them we got scored on in the very first shift. We have to find a way to put the puck in the net.” Says Crusader Forward Lane Zablocki.
Zablocki has been a bright spot in the up and down month of February, scoring four goals in five games for the Crusaders.
Sherwood Park native Troy Trembley was in goal for the Pontiacs in the February 11th shutout win, stopping all 25 pucks thrown towards him.
The Crusaders will have had six days of rest since their last game that saw them fall 4-2 to the Spruce Grove Saints in the final matchup against the Saints this season.
Sherwood Park continues to battle the injury bug as they were with out leading scorer Arthur Gordon in that game against the Saints on Family Day, as well as Center Brett Van Os. Those players will be a game time decision as well as Lane Zablocki who was nicked up after the game in Spruce Grove.
The Crusaders will still be without most notably Defenseman Brett Magee and Goaltender Tommy Nixon. Sherwood Park is hoping for those players to return for the final weekend next Friday and Saturday in Grande Prairie. Both players are needing medical clearance to return to game action.
Sherwood Park will be in tough Sunday afternoon and a much better effort is needed compared to their last matchup against the Pontiacs. At least a point would allow the Crusaders to finish no worse than sixth in the standings, but will still have to be weary of the hot Drayton Valley Thunder who have won six games in a row heading into Saturday night.
-Story By Taylor Medak