It was a tale of two periods and another bad start for the Cru as they fell to the Grande Prairie Storm 3-2 on Sunday, Feb. 24 in Sherwood Park.
After losing 4-1 on Friday, Feb. 22 to the Spruce Grove Saints, the Crusaders switched things up to give starting goaltender Matt Tomkins a rest. Back-up goaltender Jacob Suppes got the start for the Crusaders (27-24-7) and looked a bit shaky off the start. Down 3-1 at the end of the first, Suppes was solid the rest of the way, but in the end took the loss after stopping 19 of 22 shots.
“The first couple goals that went in, the goaltender probably wants them back, but he hasn’t played in a while and we had a couple breakdowns in front of him,” said Crusaders head coach Tim Fragle.
The second period had more of the Cru’s style of hockey. Quick passes and fast break-outs, but with no pay-off against the Storm (34-20-4). Going into the third it was another uphill climb and a character test for the Cru.
By the end of the third, the Cru did all they could, peppering Grande Prairie goaltender Nick Kulmanovsky. With a their goalie pulled, the Cru did finally get another past Kulmanovsky, but still lost. There is a positive to that final goal, though. Playing with a six attackers and trying to claw forward isn’t something you can re-create in practice.
“That is the type of goal I’m talking about, a lot of traffic out front and a shot from the point,” Fragle said. “If the goaltender can’t see it, he can’t stop it.
“Also, we had the shots, 35-22. We outplayed them. I thought at times we had good traffic and at times we didn’t show urgency to get to the net. If we do that more often we will score more often. We need to score on some chances too. I mean in the second period, jeez, we had two or three point-blank chances.”
As for what is next, it isn’t the outcome the Cru wanted, but with two losses in the final four games, their destiny was in their own hands.
“All signals right now point to us starting the playoffs on the road,” Fragle said.
Up next for the Crusaders is a trip to Grande Prairie on Friday, March 1 to fight the Storm on their own turf. Sherwood Park will then head on to Whitecourt (30-20-8) on Saturday, March 2 to play their final game of the season against the Wolverines.
With the two consecutive losses, the Cru are currently sitting in seventh in the North Division of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, four points behind sixth-place Drayton Valley (29-22-7), and eleventh overall.