Sherwood Park Crusaders (10-13-2) VS Grande Prairie Storm (13-9-3) Friday November 24th, 2017 – 7:00pm
Sherwood Park Crusaders (10-13-2)* VS Drayton Valley Thunder (6-21-0)* Saturday November 25th, 2017 – 7:00pm
*record as of November 24th
SHERWOOD PARK, AB – There was a great sense of optimism after the Crusaders 5-3 victory over the Grande Prairie Storm last Sunday afternoon, the team managed to pick up at least a point in their second straight game, and snapped a five-game home losing streak.
The Crusaders also kept one of the highest scoring teams in the AJHL to only three goals, the Storm average 3.88 goals per game, but the team feels they have much to improve on after the victory.
“I thought we looked a little sluggish on Sunday. We didn't quite have our usual legs underneath us, but credit to the guys, they battled hard and found a way to grind out a tough win at home against a good opponent. Hopefully it will be a confidence boost for our group now that we were able to win the third period in a tied game.” Says Crusaders Head Coach Adam Manah.
Sherwood Park and Grande Prairie were deadlocked at two heading into the final period, the Storm would go ahead early in the third, spawning déjà vu’s of past third period collapses this season.
“Obviously, from the players standpoint it was probably another, here we go again moment, but give a lot of credit to the group.” Noted Manah.
“We’ve given up a couple leads this year, which has been tough to swallow. When [Grande Prairie] scored early in the third, it kind of deflated the bench a bit. I thought we did a good job of staying with it, we had to prove something to not only our fans, but our coaches that we can battle back. That’s exactly what we did.” Said Crusaders Forward Dylan Stewart, who scored the first and fifth Crusader goal in Sunday’s victory.
The Crusaders were able to tie the game on a lucky break caused by hard forechecking. An errant pass up the left wall by Storm Goaltender Charles-Olivier Levesque was picked up by William Zapernick and thrown right into the Grande Prairie goal. The Cru would go ahead for good, minutes later, when Erik Miller would find Ryan Cox all alone in front after getting the puck on the right wing wall.
Another big factor in the Crusaders victory on Sunday was getting a timely save from their netminder. The Crusaders were forced to kill a penalty minutes before they tied the game, and as the cliché goes, your best penalty killer has to be your goaltender.
Brandon Vogel would make a game saver on Storm Forward Justin Bernier, coming from right to left as the puck was centered to a pinching Bernier, Vogel tracked the puck perfectly in his crease, flashing the leather and grabbing the puck out of mid air, making his best save of the season.
“Spectacular save to say the least on the penalty kill. It's 3-2 at that time, and that could make it 4-2 and it could be curtains for us. Brandon has been as consistent as a goalie can be for a hockey team. He makes the first save, and just has a calming influence on our whole team when he's in there. Impressive for a young goaltender, and hopefully he can continue giving us quality starts.” Said Manah on his Goaltender.
“I think he’s been one of our best players, obviously you don’t get the credit you deserve when you’re losing games, but he’s been really good for us.” Added Stewart.
Sherwood Park will try and duplicate what occurred on Sunday, when they host the Grande Prairie Storm Friday night at the Sherwood Park Arena.
It will mark the third game in a row for the Crusaders that they face the Storm, who are coming off a 6-3 loss on Monday against Drayton Valley.
The Crusaders will have their hands full once again, not only facing a high scoring team, but the injury bug continues to plague the team, especially on the backend with only four regulars being dressed, along with two affiliates for Friday night’s contest.
“Key will be to outwork them. They have a skilled group that can be very crafty with the puck. We need to outwork them, finish checks, and play hard shift to shift. If we can limit their chances, hopefully we can put another good effort together.” Says Manah from the strategic side of things.
After Grande Prairie the Crusaders will host the Drayton Valley Thunder Saturday night, for the third and final time this season. Sherwood Park may have already clinched the season series but the Thunder have the momentum with their 6-4 victory over the Crusaders at the Sherwood Park Arena back on November 10th.
In that game, the Crusaders had their highest shot output of the season with 54 pucks being thrown on goal. Goaltender Tymen Edelkoort III was spectacular, making 50 saves and giving new Head Coach Ryan Rechner his first AJHL victory.
The Crusaders are hoping they can carry out the same offensive game plan, with this time, the pucks going in the net and keeping some out of their own cage.
November 10th was one of the most entertaining games of the year, but the Crusaders don’t want to get into that roller coaster type of battle.
“We feel we couldn't have played a better game a couple weeks ago. We will need to duplicate that again if we want to set ourselves up for success. The Thunder have been playing better hockey, and it will be another good test for our group Saturday.” Noted Manah.
It is a very key weekend for the Crusaders, as they are entrenched in the stretch of games against Grande Prairie and producing wins can inch them closer to the Storm in the standings, they can equally fall behind and have Lloydminster pass them and Drayton Valley creep closer for the final playoff spot in the Viterra North division.
-Story by Taylor Medak