SHERWOOD PARK AB, - It -was over two weeks ago when the Crusaders were looking for answers and in the worst stretch of losses of the season. Now after four wins in a row, the group seems to be peaking in the right direction as oppose to declining at this point of the season.
With three games remaining, starting Wednesday in Lloydminster, the Crusaders have found their stride and are certainly battle tested, just in time for the post season.
The most recent outing for the Crusaders provided Head Coach Adam Manah’s group with situations they may see in their first round matchup against the Grande Prairie Storm.
“I thought both games were very exciting ones to say the least. We give a lot of credit to our group on how they performed both Friday and Saturday.” Says Manah.
The Crusasders edged out both their opponents last weekend, holding off a Lloydminster comeback on Friday and winning 4-3. While on Saturday, a back and forth slug fest with the Calgary Canucks, taking that one 7-6 in overtime.
“Friday, against Lloydminster we stepped up and played a physical tight checking defensive game. We didn't give them many opportunities and were able to create offensive scoring chances by getting to the front of the net. A habit we have been really focusing on lately as we know that's how we need to score goals heading into the playoffs. Our back end has been doing a great job of getting pucks through allowing our Forwards to get their sticks on the puck. Even though they were able to climb back into the game, we felt confident in our game and it definitely didn't hurt us to play in a one goal game with ten minutes to go.” Notes Manah on the game against the Bobcats.
There were plenty of theatrics and twists & turns over the weekend, a bulk of them coming on Saturday against the Canucks.
“It was a bit of a rollercoaster ride but again the resiliency from our team to continue to climb back was very impressive. The Canucks were opportunistic and buried their chances off the rush, where as we had to really dig deep for the goals we were scoring. Again, never a bad thing to have to fight and claw for those goals because at the end of the day we will need that heading into the playoffs.” Added Manah.
As mentioned with the theatrics, one event occurred that didn’t have a ton of impact on the results of the game was a collision between Crusaders Defenseman Ben McLeod and Calgary Canucks Forward Tyler Petrie that resulted in a pane of glass shattering just inside the Crusaders zone on McLeod’s left side.
“[Petrie] was trying to squeeze past me, I tried to pinch him off as best I could, he fell down at the last second. I glanced off him and bounced into the glass. I heard this super loud sound, I looked around and realized I was half outside the rink.” Said McLeod who had a pair of assists against the Canucks.
The veteran Defenseman has certainly stepped up his play since returning to the Crusader lineup after missing time with injury, and the rising level of play was evident this past weekend in the team’s veterans.
“All the veterans stood out in both games. [Tyson] Gruninger led the team with eleven scoring chances in the two games, but all of our older guys like [Ryan] Cox, [Dylan] Stewart, [Ty] Readman, [Tyler] Jette, [Brendan] Kallis and McLeod stepped up their games. That's what your veterans are expected to do at this time of the year, and it's a good sign for them heading into the playoffs. Hopefully that will continue.” Notes Manah.
Wednesday will be the final meeting of the season between the Crusaders and Lloydminster Bobcats, Sherwood Park will win the season series as they have a record of 4-1-0 against the Bobcats but lost the last time they traveled to the Border City.
Lloydminster has been a tough place to play for opponents in 2017-2018, heading into their final home game of the season, the Bobcats have a record of 17-10-2, seventh best in the AJHL and fourth best in the Viterra North Division.
“Keys for us heading into their barn will be to weather the storm in the first ten minutes, keep the game simple, play physical, and outwork them for sixty minutes. We know it will be a very challenging game for our group, but again a great test before heading into the final weekend of the season.” Says Head Coach Manah.
Biggest thing for the Crusaders will be for them, as it has been every game against the Bobcats, and that’s contain the line of Kobe Walker, Zach Kaiser and Tucker Scantlebury.
The trio has 20 points against the Crusaders in the previous five games this season.
“It’s going to be the same type of game as it was on Friday, we’re going to have to pepper them with as many shots as we can. It’s a hard arena to go into and win. We just have to bring our ‘A’ game and hopefully it pans out.” Says McLeod on Wednesday’s game in Lloydminster.
Whoever the Crusaders face in the Bobcat goal, it will be critical to carry out the same game plan used Friday night against Bobcats Goaltender Bailey Brkin. Even if Lloydminster Head Coach Travis Clayton starts Pierce Diamond in goal, the Crusaders still will need to go hard to the net and create secondary opportunities.
The Crusaders have an outside chance to catch Grande Prairie for fourth place and in turn host the Storm in the first round of the playoffs. As it stands, the Crusaders would start the post season in Grande Prairie.
Sitting behind the Storm by three points, the Crusaders need at the very least to win two of their final three games with the Storm having to lose out. If the Crusaders run the table and finish the season with a seven-game winning streak, the Storm would have to earn no more than three points for the Crusaders to earn fourth place.
Certainly, the focus for the Crusaders is to take things a game at a time in the final week and continue to prepare for the Interpipeline Playoffs.
-Story by Taylor Medak
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