The Sherwood Park Crusaders will kick off 2017 with a bit of a tweaked lineup as a result of the impending January 10th Trade Deadline as they take on the Grande Prairie Storm Wednesday night at the Sherwood Park Arena.
A key piece of the Crusaders first half success will no longer be apart of their team going Forward as Arjun Atwal will finish the year with the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League, the ’99 Born Forward had his WHL rights traded to the Blades from Victoria on New Years Day.
“It’s unfortunate, we really like the way Arjun was coming along, his game has improved since he first came to us in September. He prepares like a pro and the way he practices and plays, it’s not a surprise the Blades made a move for him. It’s our job to get guys to the next level and that’s what we were able to do, we wish him all the best.” Said Crusaders Head Coach Adam Manah.
With the departure of Atwal, comes the insertion of Jesse Zaharichuk to play with Alex Rotundo and Tyler Maltby.
Since coming to the Crusaders in December, Zaharichuk hasn’t quite rekindled his touch that he had with Lethbridge in the Western Hockey League, Manah is hoping the change will spark the Sherwood Park Native.
“[Jesse] and Arjun play a similar style of game, they are both skilled, Jesse is a vision guy and he sees the ice well. We will see how that goes Wednesday night and hopefully Jesse can make an immediate impact, not only for himself to get going, but to keep Rotundo and Maltby going as well.” Noted Manah.
The Crusaders bench boss will have a new face in his lineup, the team acquired 20 Year Old Forward Gage Joel from the Calgary Mustangs. The Devon, AB product has 15 Points in 18 Games so far this year and will provide depth for the Forward group.
“We’re hoping he can provide energy and be good in the faceoff dot. If he can chip in offensively, that’s great, but we are going to rely on him for some stability in our own end and on our fourth line.” Said Manah on the Crusaders latest acquisitions.
Sherwood Park last played on December 21st, ending the 2016 portion of the schedule with a 3-2 Win over Lloydminster. They resumed practice after the holiday break on December 29th and have five skates under their belt.
“The guys seemed liked they’re recharged, energized and excited to be back.” Noted Manah on the first few skates.
One would figure that after a holiday break, conditioning would be at the forefront of practice, but the Crusaders put a few more things on the docket.
“Conditioning was the big one, but we wanted to make sure we touched on everything from structure to skills.” Added Manah.
Wednesday night will mark the second matchup of the season against the Grande Prairie Storm who sit 16 Points back of the Crusaders in sixth in the Viterra North Division.
The Crusaders handled the Storm back on November 30th with a 7-2 win at the Sherwood Park Arena.
Since then, the Storm have made a coaching change, sending Kevin Higo out and promoting Assistant Coach Matt Keillor to the GM and Head Coach duties.
The Storm have gone 3-3-0 under Keillor but got started on the wrong foot after the break, losing 10-1 to Fort McMurray on December 30th.
The Crusaders are expecting a hungry, desperate Grande Prairie team.
“We want to be aggressive, we are playing at home and we want to get off to a good start in this second half. We know we have an excellent opportunity to get off to a good start in 2017, not only with Wednesday’s game but the upcoming ones as well.” Says Manah.
“We’ll have to keep it simple in the first Period, we’re getting our feet wet after a two week break. We need get the puck moving north and playing our aggressive style game that includes pace, much similar to when we played the Storm in the first game.” Added Manah.
The Crusaders will look to pick up their 21st victory of the season and their 13th at home ice, which would be the second most wins at home among teams in the North Division.
-Story By Taylor Medak
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