*record as of January 26th
SHERWOOD PARK, AB – The Sherwood Park Crusaders are hoping a recent hiccup does not turn into the norm as they head down the final stretch in their 2017-18 season. An 8-3 grubbing to end last weekend and a 4-1 loss to Lloydminster on Wednesday has the team looking for answers rather than basking in confidence.
“We were overwhelmed in the first period, the crowd energy and noise, they came out hard and put us on our heels.” Says Crusaders Head Coach Adam Manah on Wednesday’s loss in Lloydminster.
Wednesday’s game in the Border City was an afternoon start that saw a packed Centennial Civic Centre with fans and kids as a part of hockey hooky day and the Bobcats certainly seized the opportunity in the 4-1 win.
Sherwood Park did show some strong signs in the second period of that game, which included 19 shots directed on the Bobcat goal and a goal from Forward Ryan Cox. But the ‘dagger’ as Coach Manah put it, came when Lloydminster would go up for good, scoring with one-tenth of a second remaining in the period to give them a 2-1 lead.
“In the third period it looked like we backed off and thought the game was over. We talked about not getting too high or too low, clearly we were low and didn’t recover.” Added Manah.
A lot of the questions right now surrounding the team is the power play.
The Crusaders have been held scoreless on the man advantage in their last 16 opportunities and have one goal in their last 17. A mere two weeks ago the team was fourth in the league on the power play, they have since dropped to eighth in the AJHL.
“It seems when we are trying to make plays, it’s fumbling off our stick or we are just not bearing down enough, and to top it off, we are not shooting enough. It’s a combination of many things right now and we just have to go back to being simpler. Hopefully it will work out again.” Points out Manah.
Special teams will be critical this weekend as the Crusaders will battle a pair of teams where one is known for giving up the most short handed opportunities (Okotoks) and one having a very low kill rate (Olds).
Friday evening the Crusaders host the Olds Grizzlys for the first and only time this season.
The matchup will be a rare third meeting between the north and south foes, with Sherwood Park looking for the sweep.
The two previous meeting have seen the Crusaders outscore the Grizzlys 9-2, but if you read between the lines and examine the tape, Olds has certainly played Sherwood Park tough.
“They’ve been tight games, we’ve been down one nothing at points in both meetings and it’s been a case of us completing our chances, we blew it open in both third periods. It’s been bearing down on our chances more than them and playing a sound solid defensive game.” Said Manah.
Olds comes into Friday’s game in desperate need of a win and points. The Grizzlys are in a slump as 2018 has not been kind, losers of nine in a row and eight points out of a playoff spot with 16 games remaining.
Sherwood Park will have to take their Friday opponent seriously and not let their foot off the gas as they try to track down Grande Prairie for fourth place in the division, trailing the Storm by three points.
The Crusaders will have to be aware when Olds has the likes of Quinton Greenwood and Cody Laskosky on the ice, as those two lead the team in scoring with 40 and 32 points respectively.
Friday’s contest will mark the return of Defenseman Tyler Pang to Sherwood Park. The big off season pick up by the Crusaders was moved to Olds at the trade deadline and has appeared in three games with the Grizzlys and is still looking for his first points in Olds.
On Sunday, the Crusaders will have their biggest test of the 2017-18 season as they host the number two ranked team in the Canadian Junior Hockey League and the top team in the AJHL, the Okotoks Oilers.
“You always want to go against the best team in the league and in the country. We saw them last year and they were good, clearly they are way better now. We will have our hands full and it will be quite the challenge. At the same time, we are catching them on the end of a three game, three-day road trip. We have to find a way to get some energy as we haven’t been good in Sunday afternoon games, that would be a big game to get us out of that funk.” Notes Manah.
The Oilers begin their road trip Friday in Grande Prairie and will make their way down to Sherwood Park on Sunday with a stop in Whitecourt to face the Wolverines on Saturday.
As Head Coach Manah stated, the Crusaders haven’t been world beaters in their own right on Sunday afternoon games.
The club is 2-1-1 at home and 3-2-1 overall on Sunday afternoon games.
The Oilers have a boatload of talent from Forwards to Defensemen to Goaltenders, and a slew of NCAA Division One commitments.
On top of that, they have a pair of players in Defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker and Forward Austin Wong that are on the NHL Central Scouting’s mid-term draft rankings.
Offensively the Oilers have a ton of weapons. Primarily it’s a pair of ‘97’s that lead the way as Carter Huber and former Crusader Tanner Laderoute have 48 and 47 points respectively.
Okotoks has nine players with double digit goals including two Defensemen in Bernard-Docker and Nick Blackenburg with 14 each heading into Friday.
The Crusaders know they will have their hands full on Sunday.
“We know they are skilled, we know they skate well and they play with pace. The only way you slow them down is by playing a physical hockey game, play them tight and keep everyone in front of us.” Says Manah.
As a team never wants to admit one player makes a difference, perhaps the absence of Defenseman Ben McLeod in the last game and a half has correlated into the Crusaders troubles.
The veteran Defenseman was injured on a collision in the game in Calgary last Saturday against the Canucks and will likely not make a return until Tuesday’s game in Camrose.
“Anytime you take a guy like Ben McLeod out of your lineup, you have a gaping hole in terms of stature, physicality and how he defends, moves the puck and how he intimidates guys. We have to find a way to win without him and guys have to step up.” Manah points out.
This weekend provides an excellent opportunity for a young Crusader group that needs to exercise a few demons as they face the bottom and top of the Viterra South Division and transition into the final quarter of the regular season.
-Story by Taylor Medak
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