Training Camp Preview: Forward Group Looks to Continue Potent Attack

Returning: Ty Readman, Merritt Oszytko, Brandon Wallis and Ashton Cassault

Out: Tyler Maltby (Graduation), Tanner Younghans (Graduation), Gage Joel (Graduation), Ryan Rebelato (Graduation), Brendan Stafford (Lethbridge – WHL), Alex Rotundo (Traded to Drumheller), Matt Dykstra (Traded to Camrose), Jesse Zaharichuk (Not Reporting)

For a team that scored 233 Goals in 2016-17, there is potential to match or eclipse that mark in 2017-18, even with a new crop of Forwards coming into the mix in Sherwood Park.

The 233 was second best behind Whitecourt in the Viterra North Division, and fourth in the entire AJHL behind Brooks, the aforementioned Wolverines and Canmore.  Specifically, the Forward group scored 198 Goals in 2016-17 and return 51 of those Goals this season.  Ty Readman, Merritt Oszytko, Brandon Wallis and Ashton Cassault are the returning Forwards for Sherwood Park heading into training camp.

It was an interesting summer for the Crusaders as many players up front have departed either to graduation or trade, and initially, it will be tough to replace some of the scoring that is gone.

When you lose the top Goal scorer in the AJHL the last two years in Tyler Maltby, questions will definitely rise on how to replace that.

Well, it will start with Ty Readman.

The third year Crusader is the highest scoring player in the AJHL in 2016-17 that is returning this year.  Readman finished his sophomore campaign tied for ninth in the AJHL with teammate Tyler Maltby as the duo put up 68 Points. 

Certainly, Readman won’t be relied on to put the puck in the net the way Maltby did, but can certainly score as he potted 23 last season.  It’s who he will play with that will be looked upon to put the puck in the net.  Readman can dish the biscuit with the best of them, and will be able to set up whoever he plays with. 

His 45 Assists were eighth among players last season.

When you look to secondary scoring and where it might come from, that could be more of a question than how the Crusaders will replace the scoring of Maltby, but with the group of Forwards that will be competing for spots, you can maybe get an idea based on last year’s AMHL (Alberta Midget Hockey League) leaderboard.

“Our Forward group consists of a ton of skill and character.”  Says Crusaders GM Kyle Chase.

“We have a vast depth of scoring that you can see by the Midget AAA statistics, and the guys that you don’t see on the leaderboard are ultimate character guys.” 

For the second year in a row, the Crusaders will have the Midget AAA scoring leader competing for a spot. 
Last year, Arjun Atwal earned a spot on the Crusaders that ultimately led to a rookie of the year-esque first half and an opportunity to make the jump to Saskatoon of the Western Hockey League.

This season, Sherwood Park Native Eric Blanchette will vie for a spot on his hometown club.  The 2000 born split the AMHL scoring title with 16 Goals and 24 Assists, totalling 40 Points in 34 Games.

Eric will have his older brother competing at camp, as Graham Blanchette will look to crack the Crusaders after coming off a 16 Goal and 17 Assist campaign with Sherwood Park’s J. Ennis Kings.  His 33 Points were good for 12th in AMHL scoring last year.

Sherwood Park has two of the AMHL’s top 10 scorers at training camp.

South Side Athletic Club product William Zapernick had 16 Goals as well in 2016-17, his point total of 35 was good for eighth in the AMHL scoring race.

Not only will the Crusaders have the leading Point scorer at camp, but the AMHL’s leading Goal scorer in their pocket.  St. Albert product Garret Clegg netted 20 with the Raiders last season and hopes he can earn a spot with the Crusaders and carry over the scoring prowess from the Midget AAA level.

As mentioned, GM Kyle Chase pointed out that there are players attending camp, that although not high up on the leaderboard, will provide character, grit and strong work ethic as they compete for roster spots.

A name like Marco Runco comes to mind when discussing the above traits.  Runco saw action last year with the Crusaders in six Regular Season games and one in the first round of the Gas Drive Cup playoffs against Bonnyville.

Chase and Head Scout Vince Sinatynski have searched across the province and Western Canada in an attempt to build their roster. 
Forwards such as Grande Prairie Native Deklan Whilans and Lloydminster’s Chase Anderson will provide stiff competition for the Forward group.

“We have hardworking players that play with a lot of pace and energy, and that’s what we are looking for.  We are going to be a young team up front, and we know that.”  Noted Chase.

With only four Forwards returning from 2016-17 and the addition of veteran junior Forward Dylan Stewart from the Bonnyville Pontiacs, the opportunities to mold the leadership of the Forward group into what the GM and Coaching staff would like them to be is paramount.  And certainly more opportunity will be pressed upon the likes of Forwards Brandon Wallis and Ashton Cassault as they enter their sophomore seasons.

“The message to [those players], is to prove your wears, prove your leadership, because we do have a young group that maybe doesn’t know any other way right now and they need to know the right way.  We need to hit the ground running, and that starts with our leadership group.  There’s no doubt in my mind that the guys we have returning, including the addition of Stewart, will be able to carry the load for us.”  Says Chase.

Certainly expectations are high for the veterans of the Forward group but the young, eager rookies vying for spots will certainly push the returnees and make for an exciting few weeks leading up to September 15th.

-Story By Taylor Medak