Training Camp Preview: Rookies Look to Fill Crusader Crease

Returning: Brandon Vogel

Much like the Defense, the Crusaders crease will have a new look in 2017-18, but we’ve had an idea of what that look might look like for some time.

One of the strangest situations any team at all levels hockey occurred near the tail end of the 2016-17 Regular Season for the Crusaders when Goaltenders Zac Klassen and Jake Morrissey both left the team for personal reasons.

Left with little to no options and put in a very odd situation, 17 year old Brandon Vogel was thrusted into a starting roll after finishing his own Regular Season with the Fort Saskatchewan Rangers of the AMHL.  Vogel was busy in Goal for the Rangers last season, making the second most Saves in the entire AMHL with 841.  The netminder went 2-2-1 in his five starts to close out the Regular Season with Sherwood Park.

The Crusaders were pleased with his play and very confident that the netminder could handle the load going into the Post Season with a date against the Bonnyville Pontiacs.

And handle it he did.

With only six AJHL appearances, Vogel was able to win his first ever Playoff start, making 43 Saves in a thrilling 2-1 Win over the Pontiacs in Game One of the North Division Quarter Finals.

Vogel would follow that up in Game Two with a 38 Save performance pushing the Pontiacs to Overtime but ultimately coming up short, losing 2-1 in Overtime.

Vogel and the Crusaders went on to fall to the Pontiacs three games to one in best of five series, but put the 2016-17 season behind them knowing there was potentially a bright future in the Crusaders net.

“I thought [Brandon] was fantastic down the stretch and into the playoffs for us.”  Says Crusaders General Manager Kyle Chase.

The Crusaders also began the process of trying to add depth in Goal late in 2016 as they courted Calgary, AB product Sam Burford. 

The then 16 year old was having a stellar year with the Calgary Royals Midget AAA program when the Crusaders courted him in November.  Eventually, Burford finished the season top five in every meaningful Goaltending category in the AMHL with 12 Wins, .928 Save Percentage, 1.91 G.A.A and 3 Shutouts.

“We are extremely happy to have him.  He’s tall, agile and athletic in the net.”  Said Chase on Burford, who was signed to a CHA card this summer.

The Crusaders brass is ecstatic with the depth they have in Goal with who they have brought in.

“We are happy to have both those guys, they bring stability to our net and it’s been a while since we’ve had that.  We’re excited about it.”  Added Chase.

There is certainly organizational depth both domestic and abroad, the Crusaders will have several Goalies at camp that can push for a position on the team and potentially force Chase and Head Coach Adam Manah to start the season with three Goaltenders.  Abroad, the team still has the rights for a pair of Western Hockey League Goaltenders in Matthew Berlin and Kyle Dumba.

Berlin appeared in three Games last year for the Crusaders before spending the rest of the season with the Seattle Thunderbirds, winning a Western Hockey League Championship.

Whether or not Dumba or Berlin fall to the team, Chase believes there are many options and moveable pieces should he need to re-tool.

“We got a couple of options that may or may not come into fruition, and those guys may become expendable to bring in another player.  There are some options out there.”  Noted the GM.

But what is here is certainly exciting for the team, but a bit of an unknown. 

Over the years there has been a smooth transition of Goaltending changes at the end of one year into the next for Sherwood Park.

It was evident that when former netminder Matt Tomkins left for college, Tommy Nixon would move into his place from Midget AAA.  Once Nixon moved on to the NCAA, Zac Klassen was ready to move into his spot.  Now with two unexperienced Goaltenders, the only way to have experience in your lineup is to give them experience. 

That is pretty much a microcosm of the Crusaders heading into 2017-18.  But the two front runners to be in Goal for the Crusaders this season bring character, competitiveness, strong work ethic and an eagerness to get their feet wet in the Alberta Junior Hockey League.

Chase and the Crusaders know that Vogel and Burford are up for the task whether it be one of them or both emerge as bonified AJHL Goaltenders.

“When you go out and get goaltenders that are competitive and they are high achievers in the league they were in.  We’re pretty fortunate to have both those guys.” 

-Story By Taylor Medak