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Crusaders Wrap up 2015 With Saints

Sherwood Park Crusaders (23-11-2) VS Spruce Grove Saints (30-5-2) December 18th, 2015 – 7:00 PM

Media: AJHL Web TV

Sherwood Park Crusaders (23-11-2)* @ Spruce Grove Saints (30-5-2)* December 19th, 2015 – 7:00 PM

Media: AJHL Web TV

There might not be a better way to finish off the 2015 calendar year than with two games against your cross town rivals.  Ok, maybe two victories would be better.  In order to accomplish that though, the Sherwood Park Crusaders will take to the ice two more times in December as they begin a home and home against the Spruce Grove Saints Friday night at the Sherwood Park Arena and Saturday at the Grant Fuhr Arena in Spruce Grove.

Sherwood Park’s struggles against the Saints in the Post Season are well known and at the Sherwood Park Arena the Crusaders have struggled in the Regular Season against Spruce Grove, having lost three straight games on home ice to the Saints, and one win in their last five when hosting the two-time defending Gas Drive Cup Champions.

The Crusaders last win against the Saints on home ice came on November 15th, 2013, a 3-1 victory.

Sherwood Park will look to turn the tide Friday night as they will come into the contest fresh off an Overtime win, 5-4 over the Lloydminster Bobcats.

“Last game was a step in the right direction as a team to get back on track after a tough weekend down south.”  Says Crusader Forward Cameron Brezinski.

The Crusader veteran had a big game Wednesday scoring the games opening goal and had the winning goal on the Power Play in Overtime.

“I can’t take all the credit for the winner.  Chase [Torontow] skated hard into the rush and drew a penalty.  On the goal, he saw me in the open slot and made a heads up play, all I had to do was shovel it in short side.”  Praises Brezinski.

It was Brezinski’s second Overtime winner of the year and fourth Game Winning Goal.

“It’s a great feeling scoring a goal like that to get the two points that we desperately needed.”  Adds Brezinski.

“He's been real good for us all season so far, and it starts from his work ethic.  He is one of the hardest working guys in practice, he pays attention to the details, and communicates with his teammates well on the ice.  For him to score two big goals on deflections including the Overtime winner was appropriate.  He's a smart player that knows where to be on the ice and the puck seems to find him out there.”  Notes Associate Coach Adam Manah.

Wednesday’s game marked Sherwood Park’s second victory with GM and Head Coach Tim Fragle absent as he goes for gold with Team Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge.

“I Thought we had a slow start in the first period looking tentative and almost scared to make a mistake.  I guess that happens after a game like Saturday, but the message to the players was to get back to playing our style of game.  Hungry, aggressive, and physical.  I thought we did a much better job of that in the second and third periods, which, led to turnovers and us sustaining pressure and creating scoring chances for ourselves.  I liked how we had 20 guys going, and everyone was engaged in the game.” Manah adds.

Sherwood Park heads into the final weekend of 2015 two points back of Lloydminster for fourth spot in the Viterra North Division with 48 Points.  A strong weekend against the Saints can close the gap to potentially a 10 point lead in the division for Spruce Grove.

Obviously, it will not be easy.

“I think some of the challenges Spruce Grove will give us is the fact that they play real good defensively while mixing in an aggressive style of game, and they have good special teams.”  Said Manah

Spruce Grove is middle of the pact when it comes to the Power Play this year, but is always dangerous when up a skater.

“We have not been rewarded lately with multiple successful kills in a game.  The opposition has always capitalized on at least one of their Power Plays which has come back to bite us.”  Says Brezinski.

Sherwood Park has allowed a Power Play Goal in seven straight games.

“They typically run three different setups in the offensive zone so we have to be on our toes the next two nights.”  Notes Manah when being a man down against Spruce Grove.

It always is an excellent matchup when these two teams meet, consistency will be key for the Crusaders as they have generally matched up well against the Saints over the last few seasons, regardless of wins and losses.

“For us some keys will be to manage pucks against their 1-3-1 forecheck and making sure we make smart decisions in all three zones.  We will have to bring a strong work ethic and compete the next two nights, and we will have to commit to playing team defense not only in our end but on the backcheck as well.  They will force us to skate with them, and our guys have to be up for the challenge.”  Says Manah on heading into the weekend.

There will be lots of opportunity for players to step up that aren’t normally accustomed to the spotlight for both teams with injuries and players at the World Junior A Challenge competing for Team Canada West.   Sherwood Park has called up for the second straight game Forward Quinton McAndrews of the South Side Athletic Club in the AMHL (Midget AAA) and Forward Davis Murray of the Sherwood Park J. Ennis Kings in the AMHL.  Spruce Grove, is without the services of Goaltender Matthew Murray, Forwards Tyler Busch and Brandon Biro.  Former Crusaders Jake Mykitiuk and Forward Riley Simpson are injured.  The Saints will have three of their four top scorers out of their lineup.

Players to watch:  For the Crusaders, Forward Cameron Brezinski has taken over the scoring for Tyler Maltby it seems with five goals in his last four games, Defenseman Joel Webb has four Assists in his last three games, while Forward Ryan Kruper continues to make a push in the league scoring race with 44 Points, four back of Whitecourt’s Erik Pedersen for tops in the AJHL…For the Saints, Goaltender Garrett Mason has done excellent in filling in for Matthew Murray, winning five of his last seven starts and going undefeated in that span.  Mason is coming off a 4-0 Shutout win over Whitecourt and has also played well against the Crusaders in the past, most notably, a 29 Save shutout in October of 2014 at the Sherwood Park Arena.  Defenseman Connor James has goals in both games against the Crusaders this year while Forward Colton Leiter leads the Saints in goals with 16.

-Story By Taylor Medak