*record as of January 19th, 2017
SHERWOOD PARK, AB – Things have shaped up nicely for the Sherwood Park Crusaders in the month of January. They’ve won three out of four games and have moved to fourth place in the Viterra North Division, and will look to build their lead over the fifth place Grande Prairie Storm with trips to Canmore and Calgary this weekend.
If the playoffs started this weekend, the Crusaders would have home ice advantage in the first round, and be playing in a building where they have won eight out of their last nine games.
The group is coming off a pair of wins at the Sherwood Park Arena last weekend, 5-3 against the Calgary Mustangs, and a 5-4 victory over the Canmore Eagles.
“I thought we played two pretty solid games overall. Friday, we came out hard in the 1st period and really established what the tone of the game was going to be like. We controlled the play for the most part, and if anything, we just needed to bare down on our chances a bit more along with tightening up our discipline.” Said Crusaders Head Coach Adam Manah on Friday’s win.
Last Saturday was the first of two straight games against the Eagles for the Crusaders, and a big second period got the Crusaders the edge in the first of the two affairs.
“On Saturday, our start was the opposite of Friday. We were slow out of the gate for the first ten minutes, but after the media time-out we started to get our legs moving. We then did a better job capitalizing on our scoring chances in the middle frame. Again, only thing we would've liked to have seen is us tighten it up and not allow them to climb back into the game.” Notes Manah.
Sherwood Park scored four goals in the second period of Saturday’s win, highlighted by a pair of goals for Forward Ty Readman, and the eventual game winning goal from newly acquired Forward Tyson Gruninger.
“Things were good, four points [in two games], you couldn’t ask for much more. We’ve moved ahead of Grande Prairie for fourth now with a great group of guys, I’m looking forward to the rest of the year.” Said Gruninger.
The Drayton Valley, AB product scored both game winning goals over the weekend for the Crusaders and was an integral part in Sherwood Park’s success.
“He had a great weekend because he used his speed, was aggressive on pucks, and was physical with 11 hits in two games. Some of those were booming hits. He chipped in on the scoresheet as well, and that's why we acquired him. He brings a little bit of everything, and we like the fact that he plays a heavy game.” Pointed out Manah.
“Being physical is a big part of my game, being physical early opens up time and space for my linemates and I. Being first on the forecheck, letting [opponents] know I’m there so later on they don’t have getting the puck first on their mind knowing I’m on them.” Added Gruninger.
The weekend also saw the debut of Goaltender Josh Brindza for the Crusaders. The rookie netminder got the start against the Eagles on Saturday and stopped 19 of 21 shots. On his 19th save, Brindza made a sprawling stop at the top of his crease, dropping immediately to the ice and eventually needing assistance from his teammates off the ice.
Brindza is expected to be out almost a month with a lower body injury.
Friday night the Crusaders travel to Canmore to battle the Eagles for the third and final time this season.
On Saturday, Sherwood Park handed Canmore their fifth loss in a row, but in the time between then and Friday, the Eagles did snap that losing streak with a win Sunday in Olds, only to lose once again Tuesday in Calgary against the Canucks.
Sherwood Park knows they’ll get a hungry opponent Friday at the Canmore Recreation Centre.
“We just need to make sure we don't give them too much room out there. They have a very good skating team, and they are strong in the special teams category. Teams like that can make you pay if you aren't disciplined, and are unwilling to work as hard as them. We'll have to bring a lot of energy, and work ethic to our game if we want to be successful.” Said Manah on facing the Eagles once more.
The Crusaders will have to be aware of the Eagle power play, they have the most goals scored on the power play in the Alberta Junior Hockey League and the second most opportunities on home ice.
Saturday, Sherwood Park will face a new opponent this season, the Calgary Canucks.
Sitting in sixth place in the Viterra South Division, the Canucks are entrenched, much like the Eagles, in the log jam that is third place down to seventh, separating five teams by seven points.
The Canucks have gone through a lot this season, already making a coaching change with former Drumheller Dragons Interim Head Coach Darryl Olsen taking over on November 16th for Colin Brkis. Olsen as well assumed General Manager duties after GM Pat Loyer resigned.
Since then, the Canucks have been active in trying to return to the form they had last year where they finished second in the Viterra South Division.
Calgary has an excellent Forward group, led by a pair of past North Division foes in former Grande Prairie Storm Michael Clarke and Lloydminster Bobcat Zach Webb.
Those players are tied for the team lead in points with 32.
“We don't know too much about the Canucks yet. We do know they have a good crop of Forwards that are skilled and can score goals. We expect them to move the puck well, keep us on our toes, and challenge us to play a good defensive game.” Says Manah.
With the reality of playing an unknown opponent, the game should truly come down to whoever takes care of their own business and plays their game.
“We have to go into Saturday knowing anything can happen, we just have to make sure we are playing the full 60 minutes and things should go [well].” Echoed Gruninger.
Sherwood Park should have extra motivation as well this weekend as the team has put together a fan bus load family, friends and fans hoping to soak in some Crusaders victories in southern Alberta.
-Story by Taylor Medak
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