It could be dubbed the rilvary playoff for the Crusaders in 2014, first the Bonnyville Pontiacs in the Opening Round of the AJHL Post Season, and now the Spruce Grove Saints in the 2nd Round for the 2nd season in a row. The 2 Capital Region teams will be front and center when it comes to local media sports coverage for the next 11 days and will bode well for the Alberta Junior Hockey League and its exposure in the Capital Region.
“The focus is good for the league and both of our clubs.” Said Crusaders GM and Head Coach Tim Fragle.
Both teams have had time to prepare for this series, although not knowing that they would play each other until Wednesday. The Saints were the North Division Champions in the Regular Season as well as the League’s Regular Season Champions with 97 points, it marks the 6th year in a row, the Saint’s had a 1st round bye in the AJHL Playoffs.
The Crusaders had since Monday to prepare and recuperate for the 2nd round, which begins tonight in Spruce Grove. The Crusaders were 2-3-1 against the Saints this season, playing Spruce Grove very close all year long led to a very good home record versus last year’s AJHL Finalists going 2-0-1 but at the Grant Fuhr Arena, a different story. 2 close games but a 7-2 defeat also in late January propelled the Saints to the season series victory.
“We were good at home but not good in Spruce Grove, plain and simple. Discipline will be key.” Says Fragle.
In the Post Season so far the Crusaders are the top team when it comes to Power Play efficiency at 40% but only at a 79% on the Penalty Kill. The number on the PK may not reflect the Crusaders Kill on the ice, as they killed off 8 penalties en route to victory in Game 3 versus Bonnyville.
The Crusaders will hopefully be able to bring over the timely scoring that helped them so much in the Bonnyville series.
“We need to keep that going if we are going to win.” Adds Fragle.
One player that brought that timely scoring was absent in Game 3 in Bonnyville, but should be back to rekindle some of his First Round magic, is Andrew Taverner. Another big contributor for the Crusaders in the first 2 games that missed Game 3 is Marshall Donald, who will look to provide stability on the back end but also hopes to continue his offensive output as he had a goal and 3 helpers in 2 games of the Opening Round.
“We have to take it game by game, shift by shift.” Says Donald on going up against Spruce Grove
“I think a good start is important, drawing first blood in a series is always good.” Donald says going into Game 1 against the Saints.
The Crusaders will be looking for at least a split in the first 2 games of the series before the series shifts Eastward to Sherwood Park.
A big key in the series is the depth matchup, something that Tim Fragle has stressed is a key in any playoff series. Although in the games at the Grant Fuhr Arena this series, the Crusaders won’t be able to get the ideal matchups without last change. The club feels confident that all players can perform in any situation.
“They have depth so it will be difficult so all our players have to know who they are up against. We can’t afford to have guys not play their best.” Fragle Said
The Saints have a collective group of Forwards that can put the puck in the net and were led in the Regular Season by Parker MacKay, Cameron Hughes and Jarid Hauptman.
Adding to the complexity of the Saints Forward group is their Defensemen, led by veteran Corey Chorneyko and Boston University commit Brandon Hickey, the Saints D have the ability to work the puck up ice effectively and create offensive zone chances.
“Their Defensive core is very active off the rush and in zone, we need to be sharp on the back check and in coverage.” Says Fragle on slowing down the Saints Defensemen.
The Crusaders will also have to deal with one of the league’s best Goaltenders, Kenny Cameron. A finalist for the Goaltender of The Year award, Cameron had 3 shutouts and 34 wins this season for the Saints. Fragle knows it won’t be easy beating the 20 year old netminder.
“We need to create dirty goals, which is playoff hockey. We need to be prepared to go to the tough areas.” Says Fragle on generating offense against the Saints.
One player that Fragle will look for to be a contributor in that department will be Captain Dillon Massie, who’s in his final Post Season in the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
“I think this series will be a close one, Spruce Grove is a very talented and tough team. But I think if we play together as a team and play our system, we should have a good chance to win this series.” Massie stated.
It will be the 2nd straight year these cross town rivals have clashed in the Playoffs. A Post Season rivalry that had been dormant for 10 seasons was renewed last season with the Saints winning in a close 6 game series.
Games 1 and 2 in this series will be played tonight and Saturday night in Spruce Grove at 7:00 PM. Games 3 and 4 will be played in Sherwood Park starting on Monday the 17th and Wednesday the 19th of March. Games 5 (in Spruce Grove), 6 (in Sherwood Park) and 7 (in Spruce Grove) if necessary will be on the 21st, 23rd and 25th of March. All games start at 7:00 PM.
For tickets to any Crusader Playoff Games in Round 2 please call the Crusaders at 780-417-1175.