Departures: Brett Magee (Age), Joel Webb (Age), Chris McKay (NCAA)
Acquisitions: Grayden Smith (Humboldt – SJHL)*
*Will not be reporting to Training Camp
The old saying goes, “Defense wins championships.” And certainly the Sherwood Park Crusaders have pieces on their blue line that potentially can help echo that statement. Time will obviously tell but the core of the Defensemen returning to the Crusaders blue line bring a mix of everything that could bring that sought after first AJHL title to the Park.
The Crusaders will return two of their three top scoring defensemen from 2015-16 and are hoping the pair can surpass their numbers from last year. Ben Sowa and Chase Torontow, both in their final year of Junior eligibility will look to build off career highs in Goals, Assists and Points.
Sowa’s success in 2015-16 came in large part to his discipline, scaling back his PIM’s by 41 from his 176 in 14-15. Finishing fifth in team scoring, the Edmonton, AB Native had 12 Goals from the blue line, which was fifth among all AJHL Defensemen, and added 25 Assists.
”Ben had a big offensive output last season, and we expect that number to only grow going into this year. He loves to jump up in the play, has a big shot from the point, is tough to play against every shift, and can be a shutdown guy as well. His leadership will shine through, and be a big part of our success this season.” Says Head Coach Adam Manah.
Sowa’s on ice skills and leadership abilities will make him a frontrunner to dawn the Captaincy, as Captain Brett Magee finished out his Junior career last season.
Chase Torontow will look once again to try and double up his stat line. The fourth year Crusader has increased his Goal total each season with a career high of 4 last year.
“I’ve been working on my upper body this summer, and getting better shots off, especially on the Power Play will definitely help my game out a lot.” Notes Torontow.
Where Torontow really contributes offensively, is his distribution of the puck. Tied for 12th, with teammate Sowa , in the AJHL among Defensemen with 25 Assists, Torontow has the ability to start the breakout and deliver that first good pass or even lead the rush. His quick hands in tight areas allow for superb control of the puck along the blue line.
“Chase brings great vision, sees the ice well, can be a quarterback on the PP, and is a very good defender. Chase will be leaned on to be an offensive guy, and to log big minutes for us.” Added Manah.
Look for Torontow and Sowa to be a potential top paring heading into the start of the Regular Season.
Another returning Defensemen is gritty veteran Evan Bowden. Having had his struggles being in and out of the lineup in his first two seasons whether it be opportunity or injury, the 1997 born Sherwood Park product will truly look to make a larger impact in 2016-17.
Bowden is known for his physical presence and can sure light a spark for his team when he is in the lineup.
“Evan will be a solid defender that plays a physical game, and is a force on the Penalty Kill. He isn't afraid to sacrifice his body to block shots, and do whatever it takes to win. He is a great team guy for us.” Said Manah on Bowden.
In reality, all three Defensemen have the qualities and attributes to take the vacant Captaincy. Training Camp will provide the platform for the coaching staff to decide.
As for how the rest of the blue line will fill up, it really is any one’s guess who could round out with the defensive core for the Crusaders. With the unfortunate news that the big summer acquisition of Grayden Smith from Humboldt of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, will not be reporting to Crusaders camp, it will allow others to compete for a spot that they might not have perceived to be open.
The Defenseman to keep a close eye on in Crusaders camp will be Koletrane Wilson. The 16 year old from the Knights Of Columbus Pats of the Alberta Midget Hockey League will look to have yet another stellar camp as he made the club out of camp last season, but was reassigned to Midget AAA for more playing time.
Wilson’s time in Midget last season certainly helped when the Crusaders needed his services later on in the season when he appeared in six games including one playoff game in the 2016 portion of the schedule.
Wilson will be doing whatever he can to ensure he’s a full time AJHL player.
The competition will be fierce in vying for spots on the blue line, traditionally the club has started the Regular Season with eight Defensemen, and it will be interesting to see who rounds out the remaining spots. Carded in the Summer was Defenseman Jacob Thomas who certainly will spearhead the remaining group of Defensemen looking to crack the Crusaders roster.
-Story By Taylor Medak
photo courtesy of Target Photography