Sherwood Park Crusaders (24-29-2) VS Lloydminster Bobcats (22-30-3) Friday February 23rd, 2018 - 7:00pm
Sherwood Park Crusaders (24-29-2)* VS Calgary Canucks (26-29-1)* Saturday February 24th, 2018 - 7:00pm
SHERWOOD PARK, AB – It was a big weekend for the Crusaders last week and they are hoping now that they have ended their losing streak, they can get on a roll in time for the post season as they host the Lloydminster Bobcats and Calgary Canucks this weekend on home ice.
Two, huge victories last Friday and Monday afternoon saw Sherwood Park saw them climb back into the race for fourth place, trailing the Grande Prairie Storm by three points with five games remaining in the schedule.
Earlier in the week, things looked bleak for the Crusaders who lost a mid-week game in Spruce Grove, 6-0 against the Saints.
But what changed?
“We had a leadership meeting after the Spruce Grove game and the message was what they wanted to see from the coaching staff as it had been very frustrating on everyone. The message was that everyone needed to stay positive and whatever was said or done, we were able to get 19 shots in the first period and come out on fire in Friday’s game.” Said Crusaders Head Coach Adam Manah on what changed over the few days last week between the 6-0 loss to Spruce Grove on Wednesday and the 6-3 win in Bonnyville on Friday.
The players certainly responded on Friday on continued it in Monday’s game.
“We went in with a lot of energy, you could tell in warm-ups that the streak was going to end that night. We were hyped up about it, once it happened the boys were [excited]. The bus ride home was fun, we weren’t sitting there in silence with our head phones on. To get the sweep at the end was a good top to it.” Said Crusaders Defenseman Tyler Jette.
Jette saw his first game on Friday since February 4th and made an impact in both games over the weekend, scoring a goal and adding three assists.
Sherwood Park was able to do many things right in their recent victories. A big part of their success was the power play, scoring five times over the weekend.
“We kept it simple, we shot the puck. We did our homework and give credit to our guys, they got pucks and bodies to the net. We were going to the net hard, and that was something that wasn’t present in the eight-game losing streak.” Says Manah.
The Crusaders received excellent goaltending as well over the weekend with Brandon Vogel stopping 67 of 70 shots against the Pontiacs.
It should be a great matchup in goal Friday with Vogel of the Crusaders who will likely see Sherwood Park native Bailey Brkin in the opposite goal for the Lloydminster Bobcats. The 1999 born Goaltender has been stellar for Lloydminster since coming from the Western Hockey League in January. Since spending time with Kootenay and Spokane this season, Brkin has posted four wins, a 2.00 goals against average and a .951 save percentage.
Sherwood Park saw Brkin in his debut in their 4-1 loss in Lloydminster back on January 24th.
“Both of their goalies are playing well right now, we are going to be tested there and that’s why it’s been great getting back into the habit of going to the front of the net and finding ways to score goals.” Added Manah.
The Crusaders will also have to be aware of the Bobcats top two scorers in Kobe Walker and Zach Kaiser.
In four games against the Crusaders this season, the pair have a combined 14 points, while Walker has 10 of those with four goals and six assists.
In the January 24th loss, Walker scored a hat trick and added an assist in the Bobcats 4-1 victory.
“Two real good players. Our defensemen are going to have to play them real tight, they will have to have good sticks and play the body on them. We need to eliminate time and space as much as possible on both those guys.” Notes Manah.
Friday’s game certainly has the making of playoff like feel as the Bobcats tail the Crusaders by three points for fifth in the division and a potential first round matchup against the Grande Prairie Storm.
“Both teams know what they are playing for, they know they are pressing for fifth and even fourth. It will be a well contested game and it will be intense.” Added Manah.
After Friday night, the Crusaders will face their final south division opponent of the season in the Calgary Canucks as they make their only appearance to the Sherwood Park Arena this season.
The Canucks will be coming off a Friday home game against the Canmore Eagles and much like the Crusaders, Calgary is trying to lock down home ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.
Trailing the Kodiaks by three points for fourth, the Canucks are only a point ahead of their cross-town rivals in the Mustangs.
The Canucks had their way with the Crusaders in the first meeting of the season back on January 20th with an 8-3 win in Calgary.
It was a game where the Crusaders had led 3-1 after the first 20 minutes.
Defensemen Tyler Jette and the rest of his Crusader teammates will be looking for redemption.
“We thought we played great in the first period of that game, but then they came back and we stopped playing, we definitely owe a few goals on them.” Says Jette.
With the Grande Prairie Storm picking up a win Thursday at home against Fort McMurray, their lead over the Crusaders stands at five points heading into the weekend with the Storm having a pair of games on Saturday and Sunday, the latter being against Lloydminster.
By the time the weekend is finished, there should be a much clearer picture of who and where the Crusaders could face in the first round of the playoffs.
-Story by Taylor Medak
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