*record as of February 11th, 2017
For the last month it seems that every weekend around Crusader land, it’s adamantly pointed out that Sherwood Park “needs to pick up these wins” and “If they have any hope of getting home ice, a win is a must”… Well this will be the last weekend it can be said, the Crusaders need to pick up victories if they have any hope of getting home ice advantage for the first round of the Gas Drive Cup Playoffs.
With two games in hand on the team they are chasing for fourth in the Viterra North, and their opponent this weekend. A sweep over the Bonnyville Pontiacs in this weekend’s home and home is a must, starting Friday in Bonnyville and then Saturday night in Sherwood Park.
The Pontiacs have a nine Point lead over the Crusaders in the standings with Sherwood Park having 12 Games remaining heading into this weekend.
Sherwood Park actually lost ground on the Pontiacs going 1-1 last weekend with a loss to Lloydminster last Friday and a 6-4 victory over Drumheller on Sunday afternoon.
“We weren't thrilled going 1-1 last weekend. The goal was to get four points, and we didn't do it. It started with our play on Friday in Lloydminster, which, was poor. I thought we recovered well on Sunday playing a solid game against Drumheller. We can't have any split weekends if we are going to try and stay in the race for fourth.” Says Crusaders Head Coach Adam Manah.
Consistency has plagued the Crusaders all year, case in point was last weekend, as they handed the last place Bobcats only their 10th Win of the season, only to beat a team they should in Drumheller.
In weekends where the Crusaders have had only two games or back to back games, they are 19-12-1, certainly a respectable record, but not among the league’s elite.
Although the team went 1-1 last weekend, there were positives to draw from that the team can look to carry over to this weekend.
Forward Ty Readman returned to standard form picking up three Points after having his eight game Point streak snapped last Friday. Captain Ben Sowa and veteran Defenseman Chase Torontow had key contributions from the back end, something the Coaching staff has been hoping for, for a while.
“They were real good Sunday at activating, being involved, and being hard to play against in the Offensive Zone. They both have come a long way with their stick positioning defensively, and that's been a big key as to why they have been so much better in their own zone. For both Torontow and Sowa one of the things is continuing to be active in the Offensive Zone.” Noted Coach Manah.
Both Sowa and Torontow had a Goal in Sunday’s victory, and for Torontow it was a four Point weekend when it was all said and done.
“I was on the point and I just crept down, and Ty [Readman] saw me. It was a great pass through the seam. It was all about bearing down and putting it passed [the netminder].” Said Torontow on his Goal on Sunday.
It was an interesting week for the Crusaders at practice as a few curveballs were thrown Coach Manah’s way.
“The focus on practice shifted a bit due to most of the team getting the sick bug to start the week. We were able to have a split day with the Forwards and Defensemen on Tuesday, and then Wednesday and Thursday we concentrated on Defensive Zone, Offensive Zone entries, Offensive Zone tactics, net drives, and Special Teams.” Said Manah.
The Crusaders surely needed to prepare in all facets for this weekend against Bonnyville. The Pontiacs certainly dominated Sherwood Park, in all facets it seemed, in the last meeting against one another back on January 18th.
“Simply weren't ready to play the last time we saw the Pontiacs. It came down to a lot of the intangibles. We got outskated, outcompeted, and they were much more physical all over the ice.” Pointed out Manah.
The killers for the Crusaders in that January 18th battle were the Goals that were allowed in the final minutes of both the first and second periods.
Pontiac Forward Charlie Gawlicki scored to give Bonnyville a 3-1 lead with fifteen seconds remaining in the first, while Forward PJ Marrocco netted a breakaway tally with three seconds left in the second period.
If there was one bright spot in that January 18th contest, the Crusaders did not quit and got within a Goal, but undisciplined took over and it was the closest Sherwood Park got.
“We definitely got embarrassed last game at home [against Bonnyville], we haven’t forgotten about that one for sure. I think it’s our turn to do that to them and hopefully we do it to them this time.” Says Torontow.
The season series has gone back and fourth with lopsided wins, the Pontiacs lead the season series 2-1 with 6-2 and 7-4 victories, while Sherwood Park’s only victory so far came, in between those losses, on November 26th by a score of 6-1.
“If we want to replicate what we did in November we will have to be ready to compete. We can't stress it enough especially going into their building. It's not an easy place to play, they are good at home, and we are going to have to battle to match their work ethic. The other two glaring things that stand out is we will have to bear down on our scoring chances in the Offensive Zone, and be real good defensively. Our goaltending will have to outshine theirs this weekend.” Noted Manah.
The Crusaders will certainly have to contain and or match the Pontiacs offensive prowess. More specifically the likes of Derek Brown, who has 6 Points against Sherwood Park this year, four Goals and two Assists, and Forward Alden Dupuis, who has five Assists in three Games against Sherwood Park this year as well.
Whether or not Sherwood Park can pass the Pontiacs, it looks like once again, these two teams will face each other in the first round of the Gas Drive Cup playoffs for the seventh time since 2008.
But Adam Manah, isn’t about to put the cart before the horse with 12 Games left and three of them against the Pontiacs.
“We wouldn't say we are putting too much emphasis on the first round matchup at this time. We know it could be a possibility, but a lot of things could change still with the division being so tight with 12 Games left. Our goal is to get the four Points this weekend. We aren't out of the race for fourth yet, and we can take care of our own business by finding ways to win two real tough Games against a good opponent this weekend.”
-Story By Taylor Medak
photo courtesy of Target Photography
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