The result in Game Four was more indicative how many thought the Second Round series between the Spruce Grove Saints and the Sherwood Park Crusaders would have gone in the first three games, regardless if the Crusaders came out on top. Tight checking, good Goaltending, great defense and minimal mistakes.
The 3-2 victory in Game Four allowed the Crusaders to stay alive in the Viterra North Division Semi Finals as Spruce Grove has a commanding 3-1 series lead. And the Crusaders will try to avoid elimination Friday night in Game Five at the Grant Fuhr Arena in Spruce Grove.
Sherwood Park hopes they can carry over the positive play from Game Four and implement for the first time in this series when playing on the road in Spruce Grove. The Crusaders were outscored 14-1 and gave up 16 Power Play opportunities in Games One and Two of this series.
“We had better team defense, good discipline and a good start.” Says Crusaders GM and Head Coach Tim Fragle on his team’s play in Game Four.
The Crusaders scored first in Game Four, something they haven’t done all series against the Saints. Rookie Forward Tanner Laderoute was able to get his first AJHL playoff goal when he forced a turnover on Spruce Grove Netminder Brett Zarowny.
“It’s always huge to score first, especially at home and in the playoffs. Very exciting as a rookie to be playing in the playoffs never mind scoring.” Says Laderoute.
“Scoring first was important to our game in so many ways.” Fragle added.
The Crusaders finally had a chance to play with a lead although the Saints tied the game nine minutes later, however the Crusaders forced the Saints to chase the game for a bit and weren’t behind the “8 ball” going forward after the first period.
The second period was a stalemate between the Crusaders and the Saints, with both teams playing tight defensively and no penalties taken.
“We were smart with our sticks, contact and focus after the whistle.” Notes Fragle on his team’s discipline.
The Crusaders held their cool as the Saints really tried to get under their skin by taking runs at Goaltender Tommy Nixon. The biggest thorn in the Crusaders side when it came to distracting antics was absent in Game Four. Saints Forward Austin Hunter, who had been a nuisance for Sherwood Park in the first three games, was suspended for three games after receiving his fifth blow to the head penalty in Game Three.
The Crusaders were able to keep their focus on their play in Game Four. They did take one penalty resulting in a Power Play for Spruce Grove but were able to kill it off.
Sherwood Park went ahead for good in Game Four after converting on a Power Play of their own. Bryar Ortynski was able to net one past Brett Zarowny in the middle part of the third period after the Saints had taken a too many men penalty.
“It was simple and quick movement that lead to a good shot selection to create a second chance.” Says Fragle on the Power Play goal that gave the Crusaders the lead.
The Crusaders are 2/11 on the Power Play in this series against the Saints while Spruce Grove is 6/24.
Sherwood Park held off the Saints late push by picking up an empty net goal by Brett Van Os that eventually ended up being the Game Winner after Brando Biro score the Saints second goal with under 20 seconds to play.
“In Game Four we were discipline and were able to stay out of the box, which allowed us to play our game five on five.” Says Ortynski on the success for the Crusaders in Game Four.
The Crusaders were also able to get timely saves from Tommy Nixon, who made his second start of the Post Season and looks like he has settled back in after missing action since December.
“He looked more comfortable, and the time to settle is to be expected as he has been out for a long time.” Says Fragle.
The Crusaders for the first time in the series in Game Four seemed to be winning more of their battles than in the previous games, and the players were able to attest to that.
“We are going to have to make sure we out compete, out battle and want the puck more than they do.” Ortynski said on going into Game Five.
“We need to have a good start in Game Five. We need to play good defensively and the offense will come. We also need to use our size and throw our weight around.” Laderoute adds to the keys in Game Five.
The Crusaders will need to weather the storm and try to be on the good end of the first twenty minutes. The Saints have outscored the Crusaders 15-1 in the first period of the series, including 10-0 in Games One and Two. If the Crusaders can come out on top, the outcome will look more optimistic.
“Discipline is the biggest key for me in Game Five, start is a close second.” Says Fragle on the number one key to success in Game Five.
Last year the Crusaders won Game Five in Spruce Grove when these two teams met in the Second Round, a wild finish in Overtime saw the Crusaders pick up the victory. The team is hoping they can rekindle some magic and push the series to a sixth game on Sunday in Sherwood Park.
-Story By Taylor Medak