*record as of February 2nd
SHERWOOD PARK, AB - As the Crusaders begin the final stretch towards the Inter Pipeline Playoffs with 13 games remaining, they are getting their fair share of hockey in as the group embarks on a three day, three game road trip to Southern Alberta, starting Friday in Brooks.
The trio of games will complete a six-game stretch of games against Viterra South Division opponents.
Sherwood Park in 1-2-0 through the first half of the stretch, most recently falling Tuesday night, 3-2 in Camrose against the Kodiaks.
“I didn’t think we had a lot of jump and energy to our game. We’d been going nine days in a row, you don’t want to use it as an excuse, but you could tell we didn’t have the jump we should have had. It was a lack lustre effort and we are going to have to be better going into the weekend.” Says Crusaders Head Coach Adam Manah.
The way the schedule had worked out, the Crusaders had practiced a ton in between games in late January, hoping that it will pay off down the road for the young group.
Being battle tested will be another key thing for Sherwood Park, and they certainly will get it this weekend when they take on the top two teams in the south in Brooks and Okotoks.
“Brooks is one of the toughest places to go into and win. They feed off the energy and use crowd to their advantage. It’s usually an intimidating place to go in to. We are going to have to find a way to go in there and play solid, sound game.” Notes Manah.
The 2019 RBC Cup hosts have a record of 19-4-0 at the Centennial Regional Arena heading into the weekend.
The two teams met earlier this season on October 6th, both looking much different now, especially the Bandits who had already suffered four of their 11 losses so far.
The past few season’s the two-time defending champions have been slow out of the gates but trend upward as the winter months progress.
“Ryan [Papaioannou] and his staff do a good job of making their players prepared and better. It seems like the same story every year, they start slow out of the gate, then once they get the right pieces in place, they take off. We know our hands will be full. It’s a great challenge for our group because we want to play the best of the best.” Says Manah on the Bandit program.
Brooks, sitting with 71 points will, in all likelihood, finish in second place in the south and face the seventh place team in the first round of the playoffs. They trail Okotoks by 11 points for first place.
Sherwood Park is certainly being run through the gauntlet this weekend, after Brooks, they will travel to Okotoks Saturday night.
Less than a week removed from the two teams encounter at the Sherwood Park Arena, the Crusaders will look to show the rest of the league that they can play with the best and hopefully return the favor to the Oilers, who won their 12th in a row with an 8-5 win on Sunday.
“We will definitely try and build off that game at home, specifically the first forty minutes. We skated with them, skated with pace and had a lot of chances. For us, we can build off the fact we scored five on them, and with the 39 shots we had against them, only one other team has gotten more on goal on them all year.” Said Manah.
The Crusaders were right there with the number two ranked team in the CJHL and will certainly hope to be right with them for a whole hockey game.
The Oilers certainly displayed their offensive ability on Sunday, not only generating offense from the Forwards but on the blueline as well.
Manah believes the Oilers depth is what has separated them from the pack this season.
“They are very good throughout the lineup. Their back end is solid and their forwards play with a lot of speed. We didn’t see Morris, so they have two quality Goaltenders they can throw at us.”
On Sunday, the Crusaders pay their only visit, much like the two other destinations this weekend, of the season to the Father David Bauer Arena in Calgary to take on the Mustangs.
A team that saw the Crusaders less than a month ago, losing 5-3 at the Sherwood Park Arena.
The Crusaders relatively dominated that January 12th game but did allow the Mustangs to creep back in late in the game.
The key as always when playing the Mustangs on the road, will be the ability to handle the Olympic sized ice surface at the FDB.
Calgary should be coming into Sunday’s game on a high, as they recently snapped a 10 game losing streak, beating Olds 4-2 on Thursday night.
“The play really well in their rink. With us being a skilled team, the big ice could be used in our favour. We are just going to have to come out hard in that one against a very desperate team.” Said Manah.
The Mustangs are battling for positioning in the south, much like the Crusaders who trail Grande Prairie for fourth in the division by three points with both teams having 13 games remaining.
-Story by Taylor Medak
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