*record as of January 27th
With January wrapping up, the playoff picture in the Alberta Junior Hockey League is becoming clearer and clearer.
For the Sherwood Park Crusaders, they are hoping that their seed in the Viterra North Division remains unclear after this weekend with a pair of games in Fort McMurray against the Oil Barons, Friday and Saturday night.
Heading into Friday’s matchup the Crusaders remain seven Points back of fourth place Spruce Grove with 16 Games remaining. Sherwood Park knows if they have any hope of catching the Saints, Points will be needed this weekend.
The group is coming off a big bounce back win Sunday against the Grande Prairie Storm, by a score of 7-2.
“I thought we had a really good first Period. At times in the back 40 minutes, we were sloppy with the puck. For the most part, it was a much better bounce back game after Wednesday and I thought we did some good things and that’s why we got rewarded and won 7-2.” Says Crusaders Head Coach Adam Manah.
The Crusaders got out to a 3-0 lead after the first Period courtesy of the line of Ty Readman, Matthew Dykstra and Jesse Zaharichuk.
The trio combined for eight Points, including four from Readman and Zaharichuk with 3, who had his best game as a Crusader.
“Jesse’s best game by far. It helped when Matt Dykstra was moving his feet and opening up space and Ty Readman dishing the puck the way he was. Jesse was making things happen with the puck when he had it on his stick, we liked that he was a little more selfish and shooting pucks. That’s the way he has got to play.” Noted Manah.
The second Period in Sunday’s game, gave way for Tyler Maltby to remind everyone that he is one of the most dominant Power Forwards in the AJHL.
Two Goals in fourteen seconds allowed the Crusaders to distance themselves from the Storm and increase the Arizona State commit’s league leading Goal total to 32.
“It’s frustrating sometimes not being able to get pucks through bodies to the net. Something just clicked in the second Period and it kind of went on from there. I think my feet just got going a little quicker and I went to the net a little harder. “ Says Maltby who admitted feeling a little snake bitten early on in Sunday’s contest.
The rest of Maltby’s team and his Head Coach hope the over ager can continue to put the puck in the net this weekend.
“Maltby got off to a bit of a slow start and when we needed him to step up he gets us two goals. He made it look easy in tight around the net.” Said Manah on Maltby.
This weekend will be a little extra special for Head Coach Adam Manah, As the first year Head Coach will be behind the bench as an HC in his old stomping grounds.
Manah played 136 Games with the MOB from 2006 to 2008 which included an AJHL title in 2006.
“It’s exciting, it’s my first opportunity as a Head Coach to go up there and hopefully have some success. They are riding quite the hot streak, it will be a very big challenge for us. For me, I owe a lot to Fort McMurray, it’s a great hockey town.” Explains Manah.
Hot might be an understatement.
The Oil Barons have won nine Games in a row, outscoring their opponent 37-15.
In the season series against Fort McMurray, the Oil Barons are 3-0 versus the Crusaders with 5-1, 7-4 and 2-1 victories, all coming at the Sherwood Park Arena.
“They played us really well the first three games. Despite going 0-3, we felt we played well the last time we squared off and maybe felt we deserved better. They got the full package, they got Goaltending, they’re solid on their back end and score up front. Mix that in with the fact that they can play a hard physical game. They have the right makeup of a contender this year.” Says Manah on facing the Oil Barons.
The same thoughts have echoed down to the players.
“They’re a pretty big team, they’ve been doing really well. We’ve had some tight games with them this year and maybe deserved a better fate. They’ve got great Goaltending, we’re going to have to get to the net and get [Szudor] off his game somehow. He’s stopped us a couple times this year that’s for sure. We need to get to the net, and be big and tough to play against.” Said Maltby.
Oil Barons Goaltender Eric Szudor has been stellar against the Crusaders this season, and was the Oil Barons top player in the November 25th contest, stopping 35 of 36 shots.
The one break for Sherwood Park this weekend could be a few injuries to some of the top players for the Oil Barons.
Forward Wil Conley, who is fourth on team scoring and leading score among Oil Baron Defensemen, JC Thivierge are out.
Head Coach Manah, knows regardless of who is in the lineup for the Oil Barons, this weekend will provide a great litmus test for his hockey club.
“We like the matchup going up there this weekend. It’s going to tell us where we are at and what kind of hockey team we have moving forward into the Playoffs.”
-Story By Taylor Medak
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