Sherwood Park Crusaders (22-29-2) @ Bonnyville Pontiacs (17-29-8) Friday February 16th, 2018 – 7:30pm
Sherwood Park Crusaders (22-29-2)* VS Bonnyville Pontiacs (17-29-8)* Monday February 19th, 2018 – 2:15pm
*record as of February 16th
SHERWOOD PARK, AB – The Sherwood Park Crusaders have found themselves in quite a rut at this point of the 2017-18 AJHL regular season. Their season high, eight-game losing streak seems like it has no end in sight. A Sunday loss at home to Fort McMurray and a mid-week defeat on the road in Spruce Grove has the Crusaders being outscored 14-3 in their last two outings.
Wednesday against the Saints, the Crusaders were shutout for only the second time this season, 6-0 in Spruce Grove.
They chased the game from the get go, allowing the game’s first goal 32 seconds into the first period, anytime a team falls behind in Spruce Grove, a comeback can almost seem insurmountable.
Sherwood Park has allowed the game’s opening goal six times in their recent losing streak.
Playing with a lead is something the Crusaders have done well with for the better part of the year and is something the team will definitely have to strive for going forward.
The February long weekend will provide an opportunity to break the streak as Sherwood Park has a pair of games against the Bonnyville Pontiacs, starting Friday in Bonnyville and a Family Day affair Monday afternoon in Sherwood Park.
The Crusaders had an excellent opportunity last weekend to get back in the win column against the Pontiacs on home ice.
However, that Saturday game, the Crusaders fell behind and surrendered a pair of two-goal leads to Bonnyville and fell 3-2.
Friday night in Bonnyville, the Crusaders will need to get things straight in a building they’ve struggled in this season.
Even though the Crusaders were awarded the victory on October 3rd for Bonnyville’s use of an ineligible player, Sherwood Park has been outscored 12-3 in two games at the RJ Lalonde Arena.
Special teams have also been dismal in those games, scoreless in 12 opportunities on the power play, while Bonnyville has gone four for 11 on the man-advantage.
Sherwood Park certainly has the capability to get things going on the power play, and will need to do so this weekend, it comes down to execution.
It’s no secret that part of the struggles of the team have been in goal, netminder Brandon Vogel has seen a lot of action in 2018 as he has appeared in all but one of the 16 Crusader games.
With the team being on the ice an average of five times a week, and unfortunate circumstances that haven’t allowed the Crusaders to have a strong backup goaltender since Josh Brindza went down with an injury, a lot has ridden on a goaltender’s mental and physical strength, and one that leads all rookie goaltenders in games played this season.
The backend has seen its bumps and bruises as well, with the absence of Ben McLeod in the lineup in late January and then Tyler Jette going down within the last few weeks, the young Crusader blueline, four 2000 born Defensemen, have been thrusted in areas they maybe aren’t quite use to.
Everyone knows the Crusaders have one of the most talented group of forwards in the AJHL,
what really needs to happen, is the play of the forwards away from the offensive zone and what is being done without the puck.
Too many times throughout the losing streak the Crusader forwards have not back checked properly, pinching up on plays when they shouldn’t, passing up opportunities to throw a hit and simply not being hard to play against.
Basically, a lot of things that are basic in the game of hockey are the things that Sherwood has gotten away from.
The coaching staff has preached for the forwards to do the right thing and sacrifice, then in turn, that’s how they would be rewarded to create offensive opportunities by making sacrifices when not going on the attack.
If the Crusaders can do the right things and play the right way, one win will be all it takes to get the confidence and swagger back.
Once again, this weekend provides a great opportunity for the Crusaders to get over the hump. They face a team that is below them in the standings, a team they should beat, no matter the venue.
Things are tight in the middle part of the division, both the Crusaders and Lloydminster Bobcats are five points behind Grande Prairie for fourth in the division as Sherwood Park and Lloydminster sit with 46 points each, tied for fifth.
The Pontiacs are hoping the can jump into the conversation of catching the Storm as they trail the Crusaders and Bobcats by four points with 42.
Obviously the Crusaders need to just focus on getting a win this weekend, even taking the Pontiacs to overtime on Friday would be a victory in itself amidst this losing streak.
Certainly, one of the youngest teams in the AJHL is going through on very, hard, long test in the final few games of the regular season.
-Story by Taylor Medak