It would actually be easier to list the players who will be back for the Sherwood Park Crusaders next season than the ones heading out the door.
Crusaders GM and head coach Tim Fragle and his staff will have their work cut out for them this off-season as they will have more than half of their team to replace.
A mass exodus, partly from over-aged players to a bevy of players who have earned college scholarships or are moving up to the Western Hockey League, accompanied the official end to this season. The curtain closed a week ago last Friday when the Crusaders lost in Game 6 of the Alberta Junior Hockey League North Division semifinals to the Spruce Grove Saints, losing the series 4-2.
The Crusaders were second only to the Brooks Bandits in AJHL teams landing their players scholarships and the lion’s share of departing players come from that category.
Moving on to play college in the States are Mike Berry (Bentley University), Andrew Taverner (Qunnipiac University), Josh Healey (Ohio State), goalie Matt Tomkins (Ohio State) and Danny Smith (Rochester Institute of Technology).
Off to the WHL next season are forward Fraser Bulbuc (Tri-City Americans) and defenceman Ben Carroll (Edmonton Oil Kings).
Blair Mulder will suit up for SAIT in Calgary next season, while Eric Liknes is heading to a military college in Ottawa.
Ryan Luiten, Garth Wallin and Stefan Bazar are all graduating due to league age restrictions and have yet to firm up post-secondary school commitments.
With 12 players flying the Cru coop, Fragle admits it is a much higher turnover than teams traditionally see.
“You pride yourself on developing players and we’ve developed some kids who are leaving a bit earlier than we anticipated,” he said. “A number of these players have Junior eligibility left, but they are going to school earlier than normal. You piggyback that with the six guys who are leaving because of age, and boom, that’s 12 guys right there. I guess it is a good thing, because we are a developmental league, but it definitely makes for a larger class of recruits to bring in this spring and summer.”
Their work began almost as soon as the Crusaders were eliminated.
“We’re going to have to be very active,” Fragle said.
“We’ve talked to many kids and are hoping to start getting some commitments here. We have our spring camp from April 5 to 7 and that will probably be the biggest spring camp for us since I have been around. We’re going to have to make a lot of commitments there.”
Although there are plenty of pieces needed to be added to the mix, Fragle said the Cru cupboard is nowhere near bare.
“We bring back three defenceman in Dane Phaneuf, Marshall Donald and Cody Bardock and those are three very solid players for us,” he said. “We feel like we are starting with three really big pieces on our back end. Up front we have some quality guys coming back that we anticipate can make a step up. Guys like Sean MacTavish (son of former Edmonton Oilers player and head coach Craig MacTavish) who had a very strong playoffs and was on the all-rookie team, and Dillon Massie, who will be in his final year as a 20 year old. We have Nick Jones and a few other forwards that we feel can make a step up.
“We’ll find a way to make this team competitive, no question.”
Fragle said the Crusaders are not the only team in the league facing a high turnover this off-season, including the team that sent them packing.
“There are some unknowns with the heavy turnover, but we’re not the only team in our division facing this. Spruce Grove is going to lose a lot of good players,” he said.
“We’re not alone. I still believe with the young guys that we have coming in who are top-end Midget players, that they will make us competitive next year.
“With the recruits we have talked to, we have lots of good players coming in. That’s based on the kind of program we have built here over the last three years.
“Guys are calling us to play for us. That’s been a nice surprise for us.”
The Crusaders spring camp runs from April 5 to 7 at the Sherwood Park Arena.