It’s been a tough stretch for the Sherwood Park Crusaders since last playing at home on February 17th, the group went 1-3-1 to end February but finished off their longest stretch on the road in 2016-17 with a 6-5 Win over Drayton Valley on Sunday afternoon after back to back losses to Grande Prairie on Friday and Saturday.
“We thought our effort level was outstanding in each of the three games. We competed hard, never quit, and battled for 60 minutes. The guys deserve a lot of credit for how they played this past weekend.” Said an optimistic Crusader Head Coach Adam Manah.
Things didn’t look so good Sunday afternoon as the Crusaders opened the first of two straight games against the Thunder.
Even though the Crusaders took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission and a 3-2 lead into the second intermission, that lead quickly evaporated as the Thunder scored three Goals in a span of just under seven minutes.
The comeback was cued only 20 seconds after the Thunder scored their fifth as affiliate Forward Marco Runco scored his first AJHL Goal 9:49 into the third Period.
“Runco scoring his first goal got our team sparked to make a comeback after they jumped out to a 5-3 lead. The speed and energy he plays with is contagious.” Manah said.
Along with Runco, the Crusaders had three other affiliate players in the lineup Sunday, and as well the two previous Games in Grande Prairie.
Forwards Jude Butler and Bryce Osepchuk, plus Goaltender Brandon Vogel saw action this past weekend.
Vogel, was the busiest as the Fort Saskatchewan product saw time in all of the past three Games, including starting back to back games Saturday and Sunday, which allowed him to pick up his first AJHL victory.
“Vogel played two and a half games and responded well. He made some key stops when we needed them, and gave us a chance to win. We were really happy with how all the affiliates played on the weekend. Butler, and Osepchuk also made an impact for us. Butler brings skill, and when you watch him he will score a lot of Goals in this league. Osepchuk brings energy, grit, and can play a heavier game to agitate the opposition.” Noted Manah.
Wednesday marks the final home game of the 2016-17 Regular Season for the Crusaders, and home has definitely been better than the road for Sherwood Park this season.
Heading into Wednesday, the Crusaders have a record of 19-10-0 as the home team, and 18 Wins at the Sherwood Park Arena because of one victory being at the AJHL Showcase. Another victory will provide the Crusaders with one of the better records as the home team in the Viterra North Division.
“For the most part we have played well at home, even though we've had a few games in which we haven't liked at all. But we've had great fan support all season which has been a big boost for us, and we like to use our rink to our advantage. The square corners, and some of the favorable things that we only know about has helped us along the way. We take pride in the record at home. It's imperative going into the Post Season that we win our home games, and win a tough one on the road.” Adds Manah.
It will surely be Post Season intensity Wednesday night at the Sherwood Park Arena, as Drayton Valley is fighting for their Playoff lives.
“We thought they were a desperate team fighting for a Playoff spot. They battled hard until the clock hit zero, and anytime we managed to take the lead they found a way to claw back. Give them credit, they work hard and they know how important these games are moving forward.” Pointed out Manah on Sunday’s victory.
With three Games remaining Drayton Valley is in control of their destiny. The Thunder hold on to the final Playoff spot in the North with 34 Points, only one above the Lloydminster Bobcats, but are two back of sixth place Grande Prairie who have 36 Points.
Coach Manah will look for his group to throw a wrench in the plans of the Thunder Wednesday night, and should take this game as a huge building block towards getting ready for the Post Season.
“We need to play a tighter defensive game, get depth scoring throughout our lineup, and to continue to play with energy.”
-Story By Taylor Medak
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