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Crusaders Travel To Whitecourt

Sherwood Park Crusaders (4-4-0) @ Whitecourt Wolverines (4-2-2) October 4th, 2016 – 7:30 PM

Media: AJHL WebTV, Wolverines Radio Network

If there is one word that the Sherwood Park Crusaders are learning to live by, it would be ‘consistency’.  It’s something this group has been lacking through the first eight Games this season as the Crusaders have gone 4-4-0 to start 2016-17.

This past week was a microcosm of the goal for Sherwood Park to be striving for consistency in their play.  After another tumultuous effort against Spruce Grove at home last Wednesday, the Crusaders were back at Thursday evening in Camrose at the AJHL Showcase against Okotoks, a much better effort but unfortunately a game where 60 minutes of play was lacking resulting in a 5-3 loss.

“I thought we responded well on Thursday against Okotoks considering we had a dismal effort at home on Wednesday night against Spruce Grove.  The first 30 minuntes of the game against the Oilers was pretty solid, we had an eight minute span in which they capitalized on some chances and that in the end put us away.  Overall, the effort was better though.”  Says Crusaders Head Coach Adam Manah.

Sherwood Park would wrap up the showcase Saturday with a matinee against the defending Gas Drive Cup Champions, the Brooks Bandits.

Things did not look great for the Crusaders after the first period in which the Bandits took a 3-1 lead into the intermission.

“Saturday, against Brooks we weren't so good in the first 40 minutes of play.  We had some discipline issues with some of our veteran players which was addressed during the first two periods.”  Noted Manah.

Sherwood Park would bear down in the second frame and not allow any goals from the Bandits.

“The message was to stop taking undisciplined penalties, start shooting the puck more, and just playing a heavier game.”  Added Manah.

The game really opened up in the third period, large in part thanks to the play of Alex Rotundo and Tyler Maltby, who both scored twice in Regulation, as the Crusaders were able force overtime and win 5-4 in a Shootout.

“[Alex] was outstanding on Saturday.  He was moving his feet, creating offense off the rush, and was good in the faceoff circle for us.  We don't tie up the game if he doesn't score the Shorthanded Goal to get us sparked in the third period and then win the draw with 30 seconds left.  He finished it off by making a pretty slick move in the shootout for us to win the game.”  Says Manah.

The Crusaders scored two Shorthanded Goals in the third period of Saturday’s game, they are tied for second in the league with three so far this year, they led the AJHL with 13 last season.

The showcase weekend is always tough on players as they are trying to impress the boat load of scouts in attendance, but the group rallied to get a split on the weekend and saw strong play from netminder Zac Klassen.

“The difference between the Okotoks game and Brooks game is we were able to finish on our scoring chances in the third period, and Klassen kept the game at 3-1 which allowed ourselves to climb back in it and gain a big two points.”  Manah said.

Now to the present…

Sherwood Park begins the first full week of October with a road game in Whitecourt as they battle the Wolverines for the first time in 2016-17, and their first of four straight games away from the Sherwood Park Arena.

The Wolverines stand two Points up on the Crusaders in fourth place in the division at 4-2-2 and have the AJHL scoring leader in Bryson Traptow in their lineup.

Whitecourt has a bit of a different look this season behind the bench as long time AJHL coach Gord Thibodeau is manning the reigns after taking over for Joey Bouchard who was the Wolverines Head Coach since 2012 after the franchise relocated from St. Albert.

Thibodeau spent last season behind the bench in Lloydminster, getting the Bobcats a win away from a National title.

“Whitecourt will be a real good test for us.  They are slowly figuring out who they are as well this year, and they have a lot of good talented players in their lineup.  We expect them to be good defensively, and to play a heavy game against us.  They are well coached, and it'll be a great challenge to see if we can build on Saturday's win.”  Stated Manah.

A big key for the Crusaders will be to stay disciplined, something that, as Coach Manah has stated, the veteran players need to be aware of, because the Wolverines boast the best Power Play in the AJHL with 12 Goals and are clicking at 40%.

“We need to be extremely disciplined.  They have the best Power Play in the league for a reason, and we can't flirt with danger too much in their rink.  Other keys will be continuing to play a simple game getting pucks deep at centre, being aggressive & hard on the forecheck.  Lastly, we just need to compete harder than they do.  When we compete, and have buy in to play the way we need to play we start to have success.”  Says Manah.

Consistency and a win Tuesday night would bode well for a group that is 3-2 away from the Sherwood Park Arena and would allow them to keep pace in the always competitive Viterra North Division.

A win could also provide momentum heading into the weekend where they face a team with the reigning Player of The Week and Player of The Month in the Canmore Eagles, and one of the surprise stories so far in 2016-17, the first place Calgary Canucks.

-Story By Taylor Medak

(photo courtesy of Target Photography)