Sunday night the Sherwood Park Crusaders will look to push the defending AJHL Gas Drive Cup champions to the brink of elimination for the second year in a row by picking up a victory in Game Six of the Viterra North Division Semi Final. The Crusaders have been flirting with elimination themselves for almost a week as they have made a series by winning the last two games.
By winning Games Four and Five Sherwood Park handed the Saints back to back losses in Regulation for the first time since late September. They also scored the most goals against the Saints than any other team this season with the 6-3 victory in Game Five.
The key to success it seems for either team is scoring first. Spruce Grove had opened the scoring in the first three games while Sherwood Park has scored first in the last two and come out on top.
In Game Five the Crusaders were also able to get out to a two goal lead, something they hadn’t done yet this series.
“Scoring the second goal definitely boosted my confidence, every team wants a good start especially on the road and that helped us keep the momentum from the first goal. Says Crusader Forward Lane Zablocki.
Zablocki made his AJHL Playoff debut in Game Five after missing the last nine games due to injury.
“It felt great getting back in the lineup. Going into the game I was a little nervous but when it came to game time that turned into energy.” Zablocki added.
Another key the Crusaders hope to continue in Game Six that was working in Game Five is the timely scoring.
Along with scoring early, the Crusaders scored late. Thanks to the top line of Arthur Gordon, Ryan Kruper and Tyler Maltby, the trio was able to carry momentum for their team into the next period with goals in the final minutes of the first and second.
“[Getting] those goals late in periods killed what life they had going into the next period. Both goals were set up nicely by Gordon and Kruper and I just had to be in the right spot to tap them in.” Says Maltby who had both of the late period goals.
The top line of the Crusaders combined for five points in Game Five and will look to continue that pace in Game Six.
“I think getting on top of the Saints early is huge. They don’t play well from behind.” Maltby adds.
One of the plans for the Crusaders in this series has been to get the Saints playing outside their comfort zone, being physical, taking away time and space and forcing turnovers.
Staying out of the penalty box is a big one as well.
“We need to play our game and not worry about what they are doing. We need to stay discipline, playing five on five gives us the best chance to win every night.” Notes Zablocki.
In the games the Crusaders have won, they have given up six Power Play opportunities allowing one goal versus giving up 23 opportunities and six goals.
Sherwood Park has definitely gotten better with their discipline in terms of how stick checks and how they are hitting the opposition.
“Our physicality has been huge this series. They are a skilled team but if we get on top of their Defensemen and cause turnovers in their end, we are able to capitalize on their mistakes. Our physical play is going to be key in Game Six.” Says Maltby on being physical against Spruce Grove.
Another element that has nicely settled down for the Crusaders has been the Goaltending. The play of Tommy Nixon has been stellar in the two victories this series. The second year Goaltender turned away 31 of 34 shots in Game Five and is proving why he was a nominee for the AJHL Goaltender Of The Year Award.
Sherwood Park, with a record of 3-1 and outscoring the opposition 19-8 at home this Post Season, is hoping another excellent effort is in store to push this series to a Game Seven Tuesday night in Spruce Grove.
-Story By Taylor Medak