Returning: Ben McLeod, Austin Shmoorkoff
Out: Ben Sowa (Graduation), Chase Torontow (Graduation), Koletrane Wilson (Lethbridge – WHL), Cameron Reagan (Omaha – USHL), Brett Roberts (KIJHL), Jacob Thomas (Retired)
A complete overhaul of the Crusaders blue line will occur when training camp opens Friday in Sherwood Park as it is a changing of the guard for the Defense core.
As 2016-17 ended there was much optimism surrounding the blue line, what with the emergence of rookies Koletrane Wilson & Jacob Thomas and the stellar run of 30 Points in 31 Games from Cameron Reagan left the Crusader brass believing their Defense could be intact for a few years.
But my, how do things change?
Every off season Junior A teams lose players to the higher level, whether it be graduation, a player going early to the NCAA, being picked up by a team in the Western Hockey League and some hang up the blades early to pursue other opportunities. The reality is as well, that Junior A players in Canada do take a crack at the United States Hockey League.
Other than a player leaving early for the NCAA, the Crusaders were faced with all the above scenarios this past off season.
We won’t get into the details, but the bottom line is, it will be a new look on the backend for Sherwood Park this year and the front office is more than excited to see the battle unfold for spots on their blue line.
“We’re in a situation where it is wide open, because you need to have seven or eight [players] around. It’s a good situation. We have guys coming in that we’ve carded that will be in the mix and potentially we could get some players back from the Western Hockey League.” Says Crusader GM Kyle Chase.
The Crusaders have an eclectic group of Defensemen reporting to camp on Friday that bring a mix of everything.
Most notably vying for a spot on the Crusader blue line will be Edmonton, AB Native Blair Bush. The 2000 born Defenseman had 5 Goals and 9 Assists in 27 Games last season with the South Side Athletic Club of the AMHL. Bush was very close to cracking the Crusaders last season and certainly can be a dual threat on both ends of the ice.
The Crusaders are hoping they have a diamond in the rough as their recruiting took them to Vancouver Island. 1999 born Tyler Pang will be leaned on to make an impact at camp and hopefully beyond. The Victoria, BC product comes from the Victoria Cougars of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League where he posted 27 Points in 40 Games last season. It’s Pang’s Midget AAA numbers that certainly have enticed the Crusaders. As a 16 year old, Pang put up 21 Points in 40 Games, and historically, it’s the Defenseman that are pegged to go to the Western Hockey League or have successful Junior A careers that put up numbers similar to that in Midget AAA at 16.
“Tyler prides himself on playing an offensive style game who skates well, and is very creative & dynamic with the puck. We are thrilled to have him sign with our hockey team.” Said Crusaders Head Coach Adam Manah.
With only two Defensemen returning, it will be a tough test for Ben McLeod and Austin Shmoorkoff as they will be relied on a lot in the Pre Season and into 2017-18.
McLeod, a three year veteran, has had ups and downs with injury throughout his career. When the Edmonton, AB product is healthy, he is one of the best Defensemen in the Alberta Junior Hockey League and his team believes he is in fact the best in the league. McLeod is a true Defenseman, tough to play against, mean, physical, sticks up for his teammates and can throw his weight around.
Shmoorkoff, much of the same thing, a tough presence in his own end and one mean guy to play against.
The Crusaders could have two solid anchors on their first two pairings with McLeod and Shmoorkoff both being left shot Defensemen.
Sherwood Park will have 17 Defensemen to start training camp, while some will depart for their respective Western Hockey League camps after the weekend, the battle for a spot on the blue line will be fierce and certainly carry over to the exhibition games next week.
How the Defensive group gets made up, should be the most exciting thing to watch for at Crusaders camp.
-Story By Taylor Medak