The Cru got caught up in the psychology of hockey on Saturday, Feb. 10 as they gave the visiting Thunder a three-goal lead early, and eventually lost 5-4.
Drayton Valley (28-20-5) capitalized on the Crusaders (25-21-7) mental lapses in the first and built a quick lead. According to Crusaders head coach Tim Fragle, it was a mind game right off the bat.
“I really felt that the TSN turning point was in the first period when we gave up that short-handed goal,” Fragle said. “Then mentally, we were out of the game for eight minutes. The next thing we knew we were down three nothing. We could say that we had some great character coming back from three, but the reality is that we would have won the game if we didn’t spot them the three-nothing lead. We spot them one, two even, we would have won the game. But three, three is a lead that you can’t expect to give up in this league and expect to win.”
After coughing up the three goals in the opening period, The Cru then gathered their druthers in the first intermission and came out focused. Three unanswered goals in under 10 minutes from Josh Healey, Danny Smith, and Eric Liknes, had them back in it. The Cru, for a good portion of the game, were handing it to the Thunder. Beating them to the puck, and out racing them along the boards. The second period was a testament to how well the Crusaders can play when they are a cohesive and focused team.
Then, nearing the end of the period, the Cru let their brains get in the way again.
“Emotionally, the type of goal they got on a missed assignment deflates the team,” Fragle said. “They have just come back from three and then a guy has a brain fart and doesn’t pick up his man on the back-check and he scores. It’s frustrating from a coaching perspective too, because we harp and practice that all the time.”
The mind game within a game comes into play in many instances, but especially when a team comes back from three goals Fragle believes. A hockey game is won by a consistent amount of game-long focus and according to Fragle, it was that fourth goal by the Thunder that broke the Cru.
“Now it is one of those things where we are four points out of sixth place,” he said. “I think it is going to be a stretch for us to get home ice, so we are going to try to get into fifth or sixth place. There is a pretty tight log-jam in front of us, so you can’t even predict who you are going to play. You just have to be going into the playoffs playing good hockey.
With leading goal scorer Andrew Taverner (injury) and spark plug Bowen Croft (suspension) out for their next game, the Crusaders have to go back to the brain well again and find a way to win.
“We were on that path, for example, in Camrose on Friday night,” Fragle noted. “We didn’t show up for the first period and they scored. Then for the last 40 minutes, we were the better team. It is frustrating when you are the better team for the majority of the game and don’t get the outcome, but at the same time, deep down, you know you don’t deserve it.”
The Crusaders, who sit in seventh place in the North Division of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, are four points behind the Drayton Valley Thunder and 10th overall, one point ahead of the Drumheller Dragons (26-23-4).
Their next game is at home Wednesday, Feb. 13, against the Whitecourt Wolverines (28-17-8) at 7 p.m. The last meeting of the two teams was exactly a month prior on Jan. 13 and saw the Wolverines beat the Cru 6-4.