It was back in early December when the Sherwood Park Crusaders were nine Points back of the Bonnyville Pontiacs in the Viterra North Division standings, since then the Cru have gone 8-2-0 and have inched to within three Points of the Pontiacs and three Points within a Home Ice advantage spot for the first round of the Gas Drive Cup Playoffs with 18 Games remaining.
A win Wednesday night against Bonnyville can get them even closer to that position.
“We’re excited about it, it’s a great opportunity for our hockey team. We put ourselves in a position at the start of the year where we had to make changes but since
November we’ve been able to get on track and go with the group we need to go with.” Says Crusaders Head Coach Adam Manah.
Manha’s group is coming off their fourth straight win after a 7-4 victory over the Calgary Mustangs on Saturday night.
A game that saw the Crusaders take a 7-1 lead into the third Period only to see their lead margin dwindle in the final frame by taking their foot of the gas pedal.
“We liked 50 out of the 60 minutes of that game and felt like we let the foot off the gas in the back ten minutes of the third Period, and that’s where they made the game interesting.” Noted Manah.
A full 60 is likely needed Wednesday night when the Crusaders host the Pontiacs for the second time this season, each team has a win against one another, but the Crusaders have felt good about both games against Bonnyville so far this year.
“We thought we played really well in that first game in Bonnyville when we lost 6-2, Goaltending was the biggest difference. Zac Klassen played real well in the second go around, where as he was pulled in our first meeting. Goaltending is always a big thing, especially when you are playing the four teams in front of us. That’s what will win or lose the game for us.” Stated Manah.
“It’s a tough position to play, but that’s the reality. That does tie in with good Defense and bearing down on our chances. That’s maybe something we didn’t do as well in the first time we played them, where in the second meeting we buried six. We’ll have to bear down when we get the chances.” Added Manah.
On the flip side of things, the Pontiacs come into Wednesday night losers of their last three and a record of 4-5-1 and a recent loss to one of the hottest team’s in the North, the Fort McMurray Oil Barons.
The Pontiacs have a well balanced scoring attack with ten players with 20 Points or more, with Forward Derek Brown leading the way with 40.
A big factor for the Crusaders Wednesday night, could be Special Teams.
In the October 19th loss to the Pontiacs they couldn’t muster anything on the Power Play going 0/2 while in the November 26th Win at the Sherwood Park Arena, they were 2/7.
Several players will be bringing in some type of scoring streak on Wednesay, Forward Merritt Oszytko has scored in each of the last two Games and picked up an Assist in the last three. While Forward Alex Rotundo and Defensemen Ben Sowa have had Points in their last seven and three games respectively.
Most importantly, Coach Manah and the Crusaders will look to extend their second best winning streak of the season to five games with a Win against Bonnyville, and tighten the gap in the Viterra North Division.
“We’re not just looking at them, we’re looking at the next couple of teams and our plan is to continue this train onward and stay hot.”
-Story By Taylor Medak
(photo courtesy of Target Photography)
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