Weekend Preview

Two days after their worst defeat in over two years at the hands of the Bonnyville Pontiacs, the Sherwood Park Crusaders will be thrown right back into the fire Friday night as they try and lock down Playoff positioning with six games remaining.  Friday’s opponent will be the Drayton Valley Thunder.  A team who only a week ago, was beaten in Overtime by Sherwood Park in an epic 6-5 battle.

The Crusaders will hope they can rekindle the offensive flare they had in the victory over the Thunder as they were shutout 6-0 by Bonnyville on Wednesday.

Nothing went the Crusaders way on Wednesday night.

It wasn’t good from the get go.  For the second straight game Sherwood Park allowed the games first goal on the games first shot.

“What was frustrating was our lack of compete, execution and team play.”  Says Crusaders GM and Head Coach Tim Fragle on Wednesday’s loss.

The lack of compete was most evident in the third period when the Crusaders showed no sign of life and only mustering five shots to the Pontiacs 14. 

To sum up the Crusaders game from Wednesday, there are a few things, affiliate backup Goaltender Josh Mudryk, who relieved Zac Klassen in the second period, was named the Viterra Star of the Game stopping 18 of 20 shots and it was the largest margin of defeat since October 10th, 2012 when Whitecourt defeated the Crusaders 8-2.

It is a bit of rarity as well to get shutout on home ice for Sherwood Park, they’ve been shutout no more than twice in the last two seasons at the Sherwood Park Arena.

The Thunder are rolling right now as they have won three in a row since losing to the Crusaders last week.  The most recent win, a big one, was a 4-3 Shootout victory over the Spruce Grove Saints, snapping their 18 game winning streak.  Drayton Valley is 7-1-2 in their last 10 and have points in six straight games and nine of their last 10.

“They are coming in to [Friday] as one of the hottest teams in the league
and I believe they are playing a very good team game at this point that also
has very strong goaltending.”  Notes Fragle.

It will be a close to season series that has had more twists and turns than a German road, and most recently with the Thunder scoring early and late in last Wednesday game.  Both teams have either squandered leads of two or more goals or avoided disaster by picking up victories in extra time to avoid collapse.  We’ve also seen both teams with shutouts.

And with Friday being the 13th of February, one can only imagine what is in store between the Thunder and Crusaders.

Friday night’s game is the first of three games this weekend for the Crusaders.  Sunday, Sherwood Park will host the Grande Prairie Storm for the final time this season.  The Storm will either be fighting for their slim playoff hopes or be playing for fun as they sit 14 Points back of the Whitecourt Wolverines for the final Playoff spot in the Viterra North Division.  The Storm and Wolverines play each other Friday night, a win by Whitecourt would seal up the final spot.

Grande Prairie basically needing to win out, will travel to Drayton Valley Saturday before their Sunday afternoon date with the Crusaders.

The Storm have given the Crusaders fits in their last two meetings, winning 6-4 in December and then chiseling out a point against them in a 2-1 shootout loss a few weeks ago at the Sherwood Park Arena thanks to the play of Storm Goaltender Logan Thompson.

Thompson made 33 saves on 34 shots in that January tilt against the Crusaders.  Regardless of who the Crusaders see in goal on Saturday they will need to try and generate offense on a team that has given up a league worst, 209 goals.

“We need to play a good team game and focus on taking care of our own end
as well as executing in the offensive zone.”  Says Fragle.

The weekend of action will wrap up Monday afternoon when the Crusaders take on their cross town rivals in the Spruce Grove Saints at the Grant Fuhr Arena in Spruce Grove.  Even though the Saints have already won the season series with a record of 4-0-1, the Crusaders have played the Saints close all year and are only one of four teams to defeat the Saints at the Grant Fuhr Arena this season.

“We need to play a good road game in order to have success, and what comes with that is consistency and high compete level.”  Says Fragle on playing Spruce Grove.

The Crusaders will look to build off their play in previous games against the Saints on the road, Sherwood Park has earned three out of four points so far this season when playing the Saints on the road.

The Crusaders received some very good news late Thursday night when the AJHL announced it’s Awards Finalists.  Among the nominees is Goaltender Tommy Nixon who is up for the Friends Of The Alberta Junior Hockey League Trophy, which is awarded to the leagues top Goaltender.  Nixon will be in tough as he has only appeared in 19 games this so far, but has stellar numbers with 12 Wins 3 Shutouts a 2.23 Goals Against Average and a .923 Save Percentage.

“These awards are voted on so that tells you that other GM/Coaches in the
AJHL must still consider him one of the league's best considering he has
been out for over 2 months.” Notes Fragle.

The nominee is amalgamation of what the Crusaders have and what could have been had Nixon been able to stay healthy, and even further to that what the team could have been without injuries.

Plagued from the start of the year with the injury of Bowen Croft stemming from last season, the absence of Bryar Ortynski early on with a lower body injury and into the omission of Tommy Nixon in goal since he left for the World Junior A Challenge and as well Defenseman Brett Magee, who was considered to be one of, if not the Crusaders  best Defensemen leading up to his lower body injury.  One begins to think where the Crusaders might be in the standings had they been healthy throughout this campaign.

There is no official time table regarding the return of Nixon, but there could be a target date of his return to the ice February 22nd if not then either of the Crusaders final games of the Regular Season at the end of the month in Grande Prairie.  Same goes for Brett Magee.

Heading into Friday’s matchup, the Crusaders are still in control of where they can land with six games remaining and plenty of Points on the table.  Sherwood Park is two Points back of Fort McMurray for fourth spot, the Oil Barons do have two games in hand however.  Bonnyville in three Points up on Sherwood Park for third place in the division with both equal number of games played.

-Story By Taylor Medak