*record as of January 7th
The Sherwood Park Crusaders are looking to extend their two game winning streak this weekend as they embark on a southern road trip to face the Okotoks Oilers and the Calgary Mustangs. Heading out on the road will be something this group will see more of as 15 of their final 23 games are away from the Sherwood Park Arena.
Although with 13 Wins on home ice this season, the Crusaders probably couldn’t be happier to get away from the Arena and the stench of underachievement that has filled the Crusaders home barn the last two outings.
Amidst their last two wins, the team narrowly escaped two crushing defeats at the hands of the last place Lloydminster Bobcats before the holiday break and the Grande Prairie Storm in their first contest of 2017.
Sherwood Park, weathered the proverbial Storm Wednesday night with a 6-5 Win in Overtime, a game that saw the Crusaders give up a lead twice, including with 15 seconds left in Regulation.
“I didn't think we played well on Wednesday. We were poor in our own end defensively, and didn't have enough guys going. However, in the end we did find a way to win and good teams need to do that. We did like how we responded after they scored, and that helped us find a way to win.” Says Crusaders Head Coach Adam Manah.
It’s the point of the year and quite frankly a point in the organizations history where being satisfied with a win isn’t just good enough.
If the Crusaders are to be a contending team and a winner, every game, win or lose, has to be dissected to the millimeter in order to be successful.
There were some positives in Wednesday 6-5 Overtime victory however.
First year Crusader Ryan Rebelato had his best night thus far with Sherwood Park scoring two Goals and adding an Assist. The Calgary, AB product could have had a hat trick if not for a shot of his hitting the cross bar early in the first period.
In fact, the entire line of Rebelato, Brandon Wallis and newly acquired Gage Joel were Sherwood Park’s best Forwards. If not for the late Grande Prairie Goal, Joel’s Goal would have stood as the Game Winner.
“You need four lines to win in this league, and give the Rebelato line a lot of credit. They stepped up at a key time when we needed them to. We rely on them for energy, and to give us a spark. Some nights they will give us offense like they did, and they earned everything they got Wednesday.” Noted Manah.
It was an off night, for some of the familiar faces in terms of offense for the Crusaders.
Out of the top six leading scorers on the team, only Tyler Maltby and Alex Rotundo collected Points, those coming off Maltby’s Game Winner in Overtime.
Saturday night the Crusaders make their only appearance at the Pason Centennial Arena this season to face the Okotoks Oilers. The game does mark a rare third meeting between the North and South Division foes, with each team winning one game.
The two teams previously met twice in 2016, once at the Showcase in Camrose where the Oilers defeated the Crusaders 5-3, and on December 3rd when Sherwood Park and Zac Klassen got their first Shutout Win of the 2016-17 Season.
“The biggest differences between the two games is we were solid defensively, capitalized on our scoring chances, and had good goaltending.” Says Manah on the season series with the Oilers.
The Crusaders will be in tough as the Oilers have the second best Winning Percentage on home ice in the entire Alberta Junior Hockey League with 14 Wins in 17 outings, they only have two Regulation Losses on home ice all season.
For the Sherwood Park, if they can get timely contributions from all four lines, they should be successful.
It will be interesting to see if Head Coach Adam Manah juggles his lines once again and reunites the Zaharichuk cousins and moves Tyler Maltby back to the Right Wing with Rotundo and Matt Dykstra on the Left Wing side. The move to put Jesse Zaharichuk up with Rotundo and Maltby on the Left, didn’t go quite as one would hoped on Wednesday, but it was the first time and could take some time for all parties to get used to.
Another thing the Crusaders will have to be aware of, is if, they run into Goaltender Riley Morris. The Oilers veteran is tied for first in Wins with 20, third in G.A.A and first in Save Percentage with a .931, on top of that, Morris should be eager to face the team that chase him on four Goals on 14 Shots on December 3rd.
Sunday, the focus will shift to a team that has seen it’s struggles the last number of years, and once again, the Crusaders face a team that recently made a Coaching change, as the Calgary Mustangs are last in the Viterra South Division.
Tyler Drader took over for GM and Head Coach Jeff Richards after he resigned in early December. Under Drader, the Mustangs have gone 2-6-1, most recently falling to the Calgary Canucks 5-1 at the Olympic sized Father David Bauer Arena.
“We know Calgary will work hard, and they've had some good goaltending on nights which keep them in games. We need to adjust to the bigger ice surface, and make sure we play a simple game playing our second game in less than 24 hours.” Says Manah on facing the Mustangs.
Calgary will hope history is on their side as well. The Mustangs were able to pick up a 4-1 Win against the Crusaders on home ice last January.
Perhaps some extra motivation for the Crusaders may be a trip to Pete’s Drive-In after Sunday’s game or even to a General Manager Kyle Chase’s favorite, Nick’s Steakhouse & Pizza (blocks from FDBA), with a Win against the Mustangs.
But the real motivation for the players should be, that it could be their last chance to make an impression on the Coaching Staff and Management to whether or not they stay with the team for the rest of the year as this weekend marks the final two Games before the AJHL/CJHL Trade Deadline.
-Story By Taylor Medak
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