Sherwood Park Crusader (7-6-1) @ Fort McMurray Oil Barons (11-1-1) Saturday October 21st, 2017 – 7:30pm
Media: AJHL WebTV; Oil Barons Radio Network
Sherwood Park Crusaders (7-6-1)* @ Bonnyville Pontiacs (5-7-1)* Sunday October 22nd, 2017 – 5:00pm
Media: AJHL WebTV; Pontiacs Radio Network
*record as of October 21sr
SHERWOOD PARK, AB – In what will be the toughest test thus far for the Sherwood Park Crusaders in 2017-18, the group remains optimistic of their chances as they head to Fort McMurray Saturday night to take on the Oil Barons, and finish the weekend off in Bonnyville to face the Pontiacs.
The Crusaders are coming off their seventh win of the season as the defeated the Lloydminster Bobcats 5-3 on home ice Wednesday night.
“We played a pretty solid game overall. We had a few lapses in our game in the third that led to some easy goals against that we would've liked to have had back. We did like how we kept it simple, got 36 pucks to the net, and our power play was able to get on the board with a couple as well which was important.” Says Crusaders Head Coach Adam Manah on Wednesday’s win.
The Crusaders were untouchable it seemed through the final minutes of the first period and all through the middle frame.
In the first, the jolt came from newly acquired Forward Erik Miller. The hometown boy had several chances to score in the opening frame on Wednesday, and was able to score twice in his first game as a Crusader. The first one coming late in the first period on the power play.
“I had a lot of good linemates, [Ty] Readman was able to find me on the power play, I just got open and let shot go. I was happy it went in.” Said Miller on his first goal as a Crusader.
“When I knew I was coming back, the cru was my first option, I’m really happy that it worked out. I’m just looking forward to get going.” Added Miller on playing for his hometown team.
Miller’s play seemed to energize the group with his play, the team had been wanting more pucks to the net to create offense, Miller certainly supplied that.
“Miller was exceptional for us in his debut. He's good positionally, checks well, and he's a smart player in both ends of the ice. We saw it on the power play where he found himself in the quiet areas and was able to have some good finish in tight around the net.” Noted Manah.
Sherwood Park also got an excellent outing from their leading scorers in Ty Readman and Merritt Oszytko on Wednesday night.
Readman scored his eighth goal of the season and added a pair of assists to bring his point total to 21 on the season. The Northern Michigan commit is tied for fourth in scoring in the AJHL.
Oszytko had a goal and an assist, he now has 14 points on the year and is tied with Readman for the team lead in goals with eight.
“We had a chat with them between periods and told them to simplify their game. Once they did they started shooting more, which led to more chances for that line, and ultimately scoring a few goals.” Said Manah on his veterans.
The Crusaders will need those two, along with everyone else in their lineup to be on their game this weekend if Sherwood Park feels they can compete with the best.
Saturday night the Crusaders head into, what has always been, a hostile environment in Fort McMurray. So far this year the ninth ranked nationally Oil Barons are 5-1-0 at the Casman Centre and sit in first in the Viterra North Division with a record of 11-1-1.
As stated, Saturday’s game is the toughest test of the season for the Crusaders so far.
“For us as a young group going into another tough building we can only prepare them with our pre-scout, and what we accomplished in practice this week. In terms of hitting the ice, our team will have to be prepared to weather the storm in the first 10 minutes and get to work from there. Should be a great test for our team.” Noted Manah.
The Oil Barons have been uber stingy so far this season, heading into Saturday’s contest, they have only allowed 26 goals total, an average of two goals against. Veteran Will Conley leads the team with 12 goals and 17 points. Goaltenders Eric Szudor and Chris Curr are in the top four in the AJHL with .931 and .939 save percentages respectively.
“If we want to have any chance of not only winning in a tough building, but against a very good opponent, the key will be for us to skate with them, and compete. They play a very tight defensive game and have strong goaltending in the pipes. We know if we want to have success we'll have to compete extremely hard, play a solid defensive game, and find a way to score some goals by creating second and third opportunities at the net.” Says Manah on playing the Oil Barons.
The Crusaders close out the weekend Sunday afternoon in Bonnyville, in a building that wasn’t too kind to them earlier on in the month of October. Allowing a pair of power play goals and a shorthanded one as well along with poor preparation led to a 7-2 loss at the hands of the Pontiacs.
“Biggest thing against Bonnyville the first time we met them was we weren't ready to battle and compete in that game. In their rink it seems smaller, and guys have to be prepared to get hit. We don't have as much time and space out there to make plays. For a lot of our guys it was their first experience there, and it's never easy. We are hoping we learned a lot from that first outing, and are ready to step up in the next one Sunday. It's always big if you can come out of there with two points.” Said Manah.
It was determined after the game a day later that the Pontiacs had used an ineligible player thus the win and two points being awarded to the Crusaders. The team however, did not treat that game as a wash and will hope to use the experience to better themselves against a Pontiac team that has only two wins since that game. The Pontiacs host the Calgary Mustangs Saturday night before they get the Crusaders at the RJ Lalonde Arena.
Earlier in the week the Crusaders added Erik Miller to the lineup. Friday, GM Kyle Chase bolstered his team’s goaltending by acquiring the rights to Josh Dechaine from the La Ronge Ice Wolves of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
The ’98 born Goaltender started the season with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League and has bounced around the WHL, AJHL and SJHL his junior career.
Read the full story on the acquisition of Dechaine here.
The Crusaders are hoping Dechaine can have the same impact Miller did in his debut for the Cru.
“We feel confident in our goaltending, and Dechaine will make his debut in Fort McMurray. Right now we will most likely split the goalies with it being a long road trip, but we'll see how tonight goes. We can evaluate things after the game on what will be the best for our team.” Notes Manah.
It seems now, on paper, the Crusaders have a legitimate, solid, goaltending tandem in their corner.
-Story By Taylor Medak