Grande Prairie, AB: After dropping four consecutive games to the Brooks Bandits, the Sherwood Park Crusaders headed up to Grande Prairie for the first of four games against the Storm to close out the 2020-21 AJHL season. Lochlan Gordon made his second start in a row for Sherwood Park, while Joe Howe was in net for Grande Prairie.
The first period saw a bit of an adjustment period for both teams, as they felt each other out for the first 5 minutes or so. The Crusaders got the first chance when Nick Magis was high-sticked by Brannon Butler, which drew blood, resulting in a four-minute power play for Sherwood Park. Despite the lengthy advantage, Grande Prairie struck first, as Ethan Strang caught the Crusaders defence napping on an offensive zone draw, splitting them and firing a quick shot that caught Gordon off-guard to give the Storm a 1-0 lead just over halfway through the period. The Storm would get a man advantage late when Ty Mueller caught a Storm defender with an elbow. The Storm could not capitalize on the power play, so the score remained 1-0 after 20 minutes. Shots favoured Grande Prairie, 12-6.
The second period started similarly to how the first ended, with Grande Prairie using a strong forecheck to cause Sherwood Park's defence problems. While the Crusaders managed a couple of chances in the early part of the second, a too many men call helped them flip the momentum in the period. Evan Arnold received a gift when Joe Howe tried clearing the puck but misfired and found Arnold's stick. Arnold made no mistake, tying the game with a quick shot into the wide-open net. This goal sparked something in Sherwood Park, as they followed it up with another two goals over the next five minutes. First, Tyler Miller hit Zafir Rawji with a great stretch pass, and Rawji went top corner, over the glove of Howe, to give Sherwood Park their first lead of the game. Just over a minute later, Rawji found Arnold coming over the blue line with speed, and he ripped home his second of the game to extend the Crusaders lead to 3-1. Grande Prairie wouldn't go quietly into the intermission, though, as Ethan Strang picked up the puck in the neutral zone after a Crusaders shot missed wide and walked in all alone, beating Gordon five-hole to cut the lead in half. Another minute or so later, Robert Pizzey found himself in space between the Crusaders defenders and was the first to a loose puck in front. He tucked it home for his first career AJHL goal and tied the game for the Storm heading into the third. Shots favoured the Storm in the second, 12-7.
The final frame saw both sides trade chances throughout the twenty minutes. Both teams had power-play opportunities, as each side took a tripping penalty in the period. Neither team could make the most of their advantage, and a quiet period on the shot clock led to overtime in Grande Prairie. Shots once again were in favour of Grande Prairie, sitting at 8-4.
It was a similar story for the overtime period, with both teams trading chances. Grande Prairie had better chances, hitting three posts in overtime, while Gordon made a multitude of big saves to force a shootout in the first of the four-game cohort.
Vincent Scott scored his second shootout goal of the season, but it wasn't enough. Grande Prairie gets goals from Nathanial Bird and Max Giangualano to win this game, 4-3 in the shootout.
The teams will do it all again tomorrow afternoon in Grande Prairie. The puck drop is at 4 p.m.
Story by Zach Marks
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