*record as of February 3rd, 2017
One might think it’s Halloween with the amount of orange and black the Crusaders will be seeing in this weekend, with matchups against Lloydminster and Drumheller. However, it’s February and it’s the final month in the AJHL Regular Season.
Sherwood Park opens up February with a record of 27-18-1 and 55 Points. The group remains in fifth spot, as they’ve been most of the season, but once again find themselves within striking distance of fourth spot and the final home ice advantage spot in the first round of the Gas Drive Cup Playoffs.
This is in large part due to a big January that saw the group go 7-3 and earning their biggest win of the season last Friday, 4-3 in a Shootout on the road in Fort McMurray.
“The [Fort McMurray] fans like to get in the game. I thought we had a good weekend, the first game was a close one and we ended up pulling away in the shootout, which was much needed points.” Says Crusader Forward Jesse Zaharichuk.
The first year Crusader had a great weekend for the Crusaders, scoring the shootout winner and adding two Assists in the 4-3 Shootout victory, and then adding two Goals in the 5-3 loss the very next night on Saturday against the MOB.
Zaharichuk, who has eight Points in his last four Games, is turning into the player the Crusaders had hoped he would be when his rights were acquired from Drumheller after he elected to return to the AJHL from the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes earlier this season.
“It was a little adjustment coming back [to the league]. I didn’t get off to the start I wanted to but that tends to happen in hockey so you just can’t overlook things. You just got to stick to the simple things.” Noted the former Western Leaguer.
Part of Zaharichuk’s success has been due to the fact that he has been put on a line with Left Winger Matt Dykstra and Centreman Ty Readman, last week in Fort McMurray the trio combined for nine Points.
“You have Dykstra who’s a straight line drive guy, his game is to be hard to play against. Ty and Jesse are very dynamic, two guys that see the ice well and move the puck. They’ve been sharing the puck well.” Explained Crusaders Head Coach Adam Manah.
Friday night the Crusaders will close out their second season series with a North Division foe as they travel to Lloydminster to take on a struggling Bobcat squad.
The Bobcats limp into February losers of their last nine and had a January to forget as they went 1-10 to start the New Year.
The Crusaders haven’t been too kind to Lloydminster when visiting the Centennial Civic Centre as they outscored the Bobcats 10-2 in their two wins in the Border City.
In fact, neither have many visiting teams been kind to the Bobcats this season, as Lloydminster has the league’s worst home record at 5-14-2 heading into the weekend.
“It’s been strange this year in terms of the scores in Lloydminster and what the games have been like in Sherwood Park. They played us real tough at home. For us it’s going to be tough going into that building, always is, no matter where they are in the standings. They work hard, they compete, they’re a physical team and you have to contend with their lively boards and square corners.” Says Manah on facing the Bobcats.
It’s been a down year, as expected, in Lloydminster, they’ve managed to stay in the Playoff hunt albeit with one returning player from last year’s RBC Cup finalist squad. This downfall may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back in terms of a Post Season birth. The Bobcats trail Drayton Valley for the final Playoff spot in the North by seven Points with 14 Games to go, certainly not out of the running, but time is of the essence for Head Coach Travis Clayton and the rest of his Bobcat team.
Next to their home record, part of the Bobcats struggles has been a result of Special Teams. The ‘Cats are clicking at a dismal 7.9% on the Power Play and have allowed a Division high, 12 Short Handed Goals.
Look for Goaltender Jake Morrissey to get the start in Goal for Sherwood Park against the Bobcats Friday night.
The Crusaders will get a day off before hosting the Drumheller Dragons Sunday at the Sherwood Park Arena for the only time this season.
Sherwood Park won a back and forth affair in early December, 5-4 the final score.
“It was a war, we don’t expect anything different this time around. If anything [Drumheller} will be playing a little harder for their new coach and climb the ladder in the South Division to get ready for the playoffs.” Said Manah.
The Dragons made headlines this week as they and GM & Head Coach Brian Curran parted ways as the long time Coaches’ contract was up at the end of the season.
“I played for Brian when I was 16, all of his teams were really hard working and well coached. His systems were pretty structured and I expect no less from his replacement. We’re going to have to match that intensity.” Noted Zaharichuk, who was on the Dragons team that won the Viterra South Division in 2014.
Taking over for Curran is Assistant Coach Darryl Olsen, who potentially could be coming into Sunday’s game losing five in a row.
Drumheller takes on Brooks Friday night before heading north to Sherwood Park.
For the Crusaders heading into this weekend, a pair of wins can set themselves up once again for a big time matchup next week as they have a Home and Homewith the Bonnyville Pontiacs.
A bonus would be for the Pontiacs too drop one of their two games against Drayton Valley this weekend, but if Sherwood Park can take care of business, they can be five Points back of the Pontiacs heading into next week as they do this weekend.
Both three of the Crusaders and Pontiacs next five games after this weekend are against one another.
-Story By Taylor Medak
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