It’s less than seven days till the CJHL/AJHL Trade Deadline and teams across the country will be evaluating their lineup and making changes the next week leading up to January 10th. That includes the Sherwood Park Crusaders, and General Manager Kyle Chase will be entertaining all offers in the coming days.
“If we can upgrade any of our positions, Forward, Defense or Goaltending, we’re going to try and do that, specifically, e’d like to get bigger, that’s just the way it is, bigger on the backside and a little bit bigger on the front end too.” Said Chase.
The first year GM has already been busy this New Year as the club received a bit of a blow to their Forward crop as Rookie Forward Arjun Atwal had his Western Hockey League rights traded to the Saskatoon Blades by the Victoria Royals.
Atwal, has suited up twice for the Blades so far in 2017 and will not be expected to return to the Crusaders where he posted 14 Goals and 17 Assists in 33 Games this season.
“It’s really difficult under the circumstances [to lose Atwal], as we were under the [impression] that we would have the player for the entire 2016-17 season. The big part is, is that we can score Goals, losing Arjun Awtal to Saskatoon obviously hurts our Offense now, but I think there’s a lot of teams that would say they would take our Offense.” Says Chase.
“It’s the nature of the business, whenever you bring in a signed Western Hockey League player, you’re at the mercy of the fact that the player can be called up at anytime.” Added Chase.
The club is no stranger to this situation as they dealt with it earlier in the year when Goaltender Matt Berlin had his WHL rights traded to Seattle, where he now is playing a big role for the Thunderbirds.
Chase and the Crusaders were quick to respond to the departure of a Forward by adding a depth player in Gage Joel from the Calgary Mustangs.
The ‘96 Born Forward from Devon, AB has spent majority of his Junior career in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey league before coming to the Mustangs this season. The 5’11 174lbs Centre has 8 Goals and 7 Assists in 18 Games in the AJHL this season.
“He’s a solid two way guy, he’ll add a little more grit to our lineup as well as size, and he plays the right way.” Noted Chase on Joel.
Chase was also active early in the New Year, making another deal with the Mustangs, as the Crusaders acquired the CJHL Rights to ’98 Born Goaltender Kyle Dumba, who currently plays for the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League.
Whether or not Dumba falls to the Crusaders remains to be seen.
Sherwood Park sits alone in fifth spot in the Viterra North Division with a record of 20-15-1 under first year Head Coach Adam Manah and Assistant Coach Jeff Woywitka, it was a up and down first two months for the new staff, but since going 6-11 in September and October, the Crusaders have gone 14-4-1 and Chase is quick to praise his staff.
“It’s been a learning curve for Adam, he’s gone from being the guy who writes on the white board once in a while to always being the guy who writes on it, leaned on and he’s done some great things from a structural stand point, both on and off the ice. He’s tightened some things up that we thought were loose.” Says Chase on Manah.
“Having Jeff [Woywitka] on our backend has been a massive godsend. We were in tough when Shawn Belle left and he’s picked up right where Shawn left off and he’s done a fantastic job, we’re real happy.” Added Chase.
Part of the reason maybe for the early struggles was the fact that the team was rolling all its lines. Giving every player a chance to compete in various situations and earn some quality experience.
That very much, was by design.
“We played our young guys in the beginning a lot. It was so that they’re not unfamiliar with what is going on out on the ice. We have guys now, that can go into situations and are comfortable with it, and it makes us comfortable putting them in those situations.” Says Chase on some of the team’s philosophy this year.
As for the rest of the League and even how the Division we’ll play out, the Crusaders GM doesn’t expect many teams within each Division helping one another out.
“I don’t think within the Division there will be a lot of movement, there’s kind of an unwritten rule that you don’t help the north when you’re in the north and the south when you’re in the south.” Said Chase.
Regardless of what the Crusaders do in the next week, one thing they will certainly strive for in the final 24 Games will be consistency.
Too many times this year Sherwood Park has come up empty handed after valiant efforts. The group is 5-4-1 in the second game of back to backs this season but only 2-3-1 when they win the first game. They will have to play on back to back nights eight more times this season.
“Playing sixty minutes of hockey, you look back to that home and home with Whitecourt, we play very sound hockey through 40 minutes on the Friday winning 4-1 then head into the next night and stink. We lose 6-0 at home with a big crowd on a Saturday night and we don’t play well. When you’re playing good teams in the playoffs, like the Wolverines, you better be good every night or they’re going to beat you, and beat you by a lot.” Says Chase on the recipe for success for the Crusaders.
It will be interesting to see what the team does in the next six days to try and improve and load up for a playoff run, a run that Chase and the rest of the Crusaders feel they can go a long way.
-Story By Taylor Medak