Sherwood Park Crusaders (36-18-2) VS Brooks Bandits (46-7-2) February 26th, 2016 – 7:00 PM
Sherwood Park Crusaders (36-18-2)* VS Fort McMurray Oil Barons (10-36-9)* February 27th, 2016 – 7:00 PM
*record as of February 26th
Still no opponent when it comes to the First Round of the Playoffs, still a lot to play for in the four remaining games of the Regular Season for the Sherwood Park Crusaders.
The group is coming off a pretty impressive week that saw two big victories against two Divisional opponents higher in the standings.
Victories against the Lloydminster Bobcats and the Spruce Grove Saints were by a score of 2-1, one of them in Overtime against Spruce Grove.
The Crusaders are in the midst of quite the schedule to finish the 2015-16 campaign. Three of their last six opponents are ranked in the CJHL Top 20 and five of the their last six are no worse than third in their respective divisions.
Heading into the final weekend of February, the toughest test of the year thus far comes tonight against the Viterra South Division winners, the Brooks Bandits.
Ranked fifth in the country, the Bandits seem unstoppable as they have won 11 Games in a row and are poised for another Gas Drive Cup since going all the way to the National Championship and winning the RBC Cup in 2013.
Friday’s matchup is the second meeting between the two teams this year, the Crusaders are hoping for a much better effort the second time around as they were embarrassed 10-1 in Brooks on December 12th.
History, however, is on the Crusaders side when it comes to the Bandits visiting the Sherwood Park Arena. September 11th, 2005 is the last time the Brooks Bandits picked up a victory over the Crusaders in Sherwood Park.
Unfortunately, history cannot be the only thing the Crusaders will need to rely on in order to pick up a victory Friday night as the Bandits are the highest scoring team in the AJHL with a Goal Differential of +161.
In order for victory, Sherwood Park must put forth a consistent 60 minute effort. Although they’ve won three games in a row, a good start in the first period will be in order as the Crusaders have been caught on their heels the last two games in the first 20 minutes, but Goaltender Zac Klassen has bailed his team out and is playing some of his best hockey in his career.
The veteran Goaltender was named AJHL Goaltender of The Week for his efforts over the last three games, primarily in the wins against Lloydminster and Spruce Grove as he stopped 74 of 76 shots in those two games.
The Bandits will have their work cut out for them as well with not having last change and trying to slow down the likes of Ryan Kruper who sits two Points back of Wyatt Noskey and Chase Olsen with 72 in the race for the Ernie Love trophy as the league’s Top Scorer.
The Crusaders should come out with their best effort of the Regular Season, the home game with Brooks, much like games against Lloydminster and Spruce Grove, bring out the best in Sherwood Park.
After Friday, the focus will shift to a matchup against the Fort McMurray Oil Barons. In a rebuild year for the MOB they’ve been able to stay in the Playoff race much to the dismay of the Grande Prairie Storm and a win this weekend in one of their three games would punch their ticket to the Gas Drive Cup Playoffs.
The Crusaders have relatively handled the Oil Barons this season, leading the series 4-1, but Fort McMurray has the momentum after the last game between the clubs with a 6-1 victory.
Sherwood Park can expect much of the same effort from a hungry Oil Baron squad looking to nail down a Playoff spot.
A win this weekend would match the Crusaders highest win total under GM and Head Coach Tim Fragle at 37 and ensure their second best finish Point wise, currently at 74 in 2015-16, under Fragle.
Sherwood Park would need three victories in their last four to have its best finish Point wise and two more victories Win wise under Fragle’s six years at the helm thus far.
Players To Watch: For the Crusaders…Forward Cole Chorney has opened up the scoring for his team the last two games and is riding a three game Goal Streak. Forward Tyler Maltby scored the Overtime Winner on Saturday in Spruce Grove and is tops in the AJHL with five Assists in his last five Games. Goaltender Zac Klassen will look to continue his solid play, he is expected to start Friday against Brooks. For the Bandits…Rookie of The Year, Defenseman Cale Makar is riding an eight game Point Streak, one Goal and 12 Assists in that span. Forwards Jared Cockrell and Dylan McCrory lead the Bandits with 63 Points, while Cockrell has 33 Goals on the season. Brooks has six 20+ Goal scorers, which his the most in the AJHL. For the Oil Barons on Saturday…Forward Will Conley is sporting a seven Game Point Streak heading into the weekend, four Goals and Six Assists in that span. Conley also leads the MOB in Points with 33. Goaltender Eric Szudor who picked up his first AJHL Win over the Crusaders on January 9th has only won Loss in his last four appearances.
-Story By Taylor Medak