Sherwood Park Crusaders (12-16-2) VS Lloydminster Bobcats (10-19-2) Friday December 8th, 2017 – 7:00pm
Sherwood Park Crusaders (12-16-2)* VS Bonnyville Pontiacs (10-15-6)* Sunday December 10th, 2017 – 2:15pm
*record as of December 8th, 2017
SHERWOOD PARK, AB – Things looked on the up and up for the Sherwood Park Crusaders 13 days ago after the Crusaders won their third game in a row with a 5-0 win over Drayton Valley. What was their longest winning streak of the season quickly turned into another losing streak after dropping three in a row on the road last week.
Back to back losses to Grande Prairie and one to Whitecourt have the Crusaders looking for answers.
But the group is banged up, and it has been tough for the coaching staff to get the personnel they want on the ice.
“It’s very frustrating, it’s tough on us as a staff when we are trying to get guys in certain spots in the lineup. You put a player in a spot where you figure they will gel and then every time we do that, a guy goes down.” Says Crusaders Head Coach Adam Manah.
“We can’t seem to get any continuity, we’ve hit a bad spell of the injury bug, we can’t make excuses, we have to battle and play as hard as we can.” Added the Coach.
Amongst the injuries, the Crusaders have been without the likes of their top scorers in Ty Readman, Tyler Pang and Brandon Wallis, who missed the middle chunk of November. The injuries have also trickled down to the back end, Blair Bush remains sidelined with a concussion and fellow rookie Aiden Yakimchuk who found his stride early in November has been in and out of the lineup the last few weeks. Veteran Kole Bryks hasn’t seen action since November 11th.
Sherwood Park has managed well with affiliates in the lineup, and will need to do so once again Friday night, but the main players on the team have seemed to find their stride on home ice, as the Crusaders have won three in a row at the Sherwood Park Arena.
“We have to improve our home record, we’d like to at least get back to .500. There’s a lot of work to be done, but we’ve been much better. Hopefully we can build off our last three wins and have success this weekend, as we only have two home games this month.” Noted Manah.
Prior to the final weekend in November, the Crusaders had only three wins at the Sherwood Park Arena prior to November 24th and sit with a record of 6-9-1 as the home team.
The team certainly has an opportunity this weekend to improve on their home record as they host the Lloydminster Bobcats Friday night, and the Bonnyville Pontiacs Sunday afternoon.
The Bobcats make their second appearance to the Sherwood Park Arena this season as it is the third matchup of the year between them and the Crusaders.
Lloydminster sits behind the Crusaders in the standings by four points with a record of 10-19-2 in seventh place in the Viterra North Division.
It’s been a tight season series with the one game in the border city going to a shootout and a 5-3 victory for Sherwood Park in the Bobcats first visit on October 18th.
The Bobcats have an excellent first line with the likes of Kobe Walker and Zach Kaiser who lead the team in points, 27 and 19 respectively.
Manah knows that the Crusaders will have to worry about much more than the Bobcats one-two punch.
“They work extremely hard, they play hard and are extremely physical. They have a great tandem in goal with Diamond and Sanders right now. It’s going to be a hard-fought battle, they come at you hard, skate well and have four solid lines that match you with physicality, we will have to match that as well, that was something that lacked in our last three games.”
The Bobcats goaltenders have a combined save percentage of .912 heading into Friday’s action, being over .900 is a good thing in the AJHL, the Crusaders will be in tough, no matter who starts for Lloydminster in goal.
After Friday, the Crusaders will host the final team in the North yet to play at the Sherwood Park Arena this season.
The Bonnyville Pontiacs make their first appearance to the Sherwood Park Arena since they eliminated the Crusaders from the 2017 AJHL Playoffs on March 13th.
The Pontiacs really haven’t let up since, they outscored the Crusaders 12-3 in the first two meetings this season, and although the Crusaders were awarded the victory in the October 3rd contest because of the Pontiacs using an illegal player, Sherwood Park treats things as if they are 0-2-0 against Bonnyville this season.
“They’ve intimidated us through the first two games. They’ve been physical and have ran us out of their building, simply put. We haven’t been able to match that yet. Hopefully with more experience, being half way through the season, the guys in our young group have learned to play in those style of games.” Says Crusaders Head Coach Adam Manah.
The Head Coach also cited special teams as being a key factor.
“Our power play needs to get going, we were zero for ten last week. Special teams are always key in those types of games, so we know it’s important when we are battling for fifth place with them.”
Heading into the weekend, both the Crusaders and Pontiacs are tied in the standings with 26 points, Bonnyville has a tough contest against Drumheller Saturday night before they travel to Sherwood Park on Sunday.
Hopefully the Crusaders will be able to take advantage of a tired Pontiacs squad.
-Story by Taylor Medak