SHERWOOD PARK< AB - It was an impressive weekend at the Alberta Junior Hockey League Showcase in Camrose, AB for the Sherwood Park Crusaders. They were one of three teams to win both their games, and the only team in the Viterra North Division to accomplish the feat.
“Overall, we are pretty happy with the outcome at the AJHL Showcase. To pick up two wins like we did coming back in each game and winning both in the third period was impressive. Credit to the guys, they stuck with it, stayed positive, and found a way to win.” Says Crusaders Head Coach Adam Manah.
Sherwood Park found themselves down 4-2 early in the second period of Thursday’s game against Canmore, only to comeback and win 6-4, while on Saturday night, things looked bleak after 40 minutes down 1-0 to the Olds Grizzlys. Five unanswered goals in the final frame gave the Crusaders the sweep at the Showcase.
A lot of things were going well for the Crusaders in Camrose, one of them the goaltending. Sam Burford finally got his first AJHL victory, while Brandon Vogel returned to the crease for the first time since opening weekend on September 16th, making 25 saves in the win against Olds.
“It's pretty clear that you need good goaltending to win in this league. We were happy for Sam to pick up his first win of the season, and of his AJHL career. Vogel looked stellar in the pipes Saturday against Olds. He's so calm, and doesn't let anything phase him. He gave us enough time to get our offense going in the third period, and we were able to explode and get the win.” Said Manah on his goaltending.
Specifically, in the game against Olds, it seemed the Crusaders threw everything at Grizzly netminder Joshua Brindza. Albeit only 16 shots on goal, they were stymied on a few attempts, but got the ball rolling in the final period with some time scoring.
“The message was to just stick with it. We liked the game we had been playing through the first 40 minutes, but we challenged the group to raise the bar and take it up a few gears. They definitely did that, and it was fun to watch us break through in that final frame.” Noted Manah.
The Crusaders got a big lift from their veteran group with the tying goal coming from forward Dylan Stewart and the game winning goal, scored short handed, courtesy of sophomore Ashton Cassault, who now has a career high in goals with two.
“Ashton had a great weekend, and continues to get better each game he's in the line-up. His confidence is growing because he's utilizing his speed, anticipating plays, and he's shooting the puck more. We challenged him at the beginning of the season to start being a little more selfish with the puck and he finds himself with two goals which is already more then he had all of last year.” Added Manah.
The Crusaders will look to keep the ball rolling against a familiar foe Tuesday night, as they travel to Bonnyville to face the rival Pontiacs for the first time this season.
Tuesday night’s game will mark the first meeting between the two clubs since last year’s first round playoff matchup, that saw the Pontiacs take out the Crusaders three games to one. However, due to such a high turnover in players for the Crusaders, Manah and the staff aren’t trying to use redemption as a motivation tactic.
“We don't even bring last year into the picture for our guys. We have a completely new team now, and we'll let them know about the challenges we face going into their rink on the road. Other than that, we will simply concentrate on our game and find a way to pick up two points.” Manah points out.
It hasn’t been the best of starts for the Pontiacs this season, their 3-4-0 record has seen some bad beats.
Bonnyville’s last three losses have been 10-4 to Spruce Grove, 4-0 to the Calgary Mustangs and 7-3 to the undefeated Okotoks Oilers.
They rank 14th in goal differential with -13, but the Crusaders know that with some of the returning players on the Pontiacs, they should be weary of how well Bonnyville can play.
“Heading into Bonnyville's rink is never easy. We know we will have to work extremely hard, grind it out, and play a simple game in their rink if we want to be effective. They have a strong forward group up front in which they have some returning guys that can put the puck in the net. Brown, Marrocco, Whistle just to name a few. We'll have to make sure we are responsible in our own end defensively, and stay disciplined to not allow their power play to get going.” Says Manah.
PJ Marrocco and Derek Brown lead the Pontiacs with five goals each, and only five other players have scored for the Pontiacs this season so far which add up to six goals total. Needless to say, the offense is running through Marrocco and Brown.
The biggest thing Tuesday’s game should likely come down to is Special Teams. As Head Coach Manah had mentioned, the Crusaders will not want to allow the Pontiacs power play to go to work, and neither will the Pontiacs want to give up man advantages to Sherwood Park. Both teams are just above the middle of the pack when it comes to power play efficiency so far this season.
The young group of Crusader players will have to weather the storm when it comes to playing in a tough environment like the RJ Lalonde Arena in Bonnyville, but with just the right amount of experience in the lineup, the veteran group should make it a little easier for the young players to get involved and make the right plays in this hockey game.
A few side notes that will be interesting to watch will be, the return of Dylan Stewart to his old team, the Edmonton product appeared in 32 games last year for the Pontiacs, and Brandon Vogel returns to the place of his first AJHL post season start. It was a coming out party for Vogel, who gave the Crusaders their only victory in the series and stopped 81 of 84 shots in two games in Bonnyville last post season.
-Story By Taylor Medak
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