SHERWOOD PARK, AB – It was a disappointing start to the month of October for the Sherwood Park Crusaders this past Tuesday night. The young group came off a real high after winning both their games at the AJHL Showcase to having their clock cleaned by the Bonnyville Pontiacs, 7-2.
“Biggest thing that was disappointing on Tuesday is that we looked scared in that game. We backed off pressure, we weren't mentally or physically ready to play, and we didn't skate with them.” Says Crusaders Head Coach Adam Manah on his team’s 7-2 loss to the Pontiacs.
The Crusaders simply weren’t prepared for the matchup on the road against their arch rivals, as they were outscored, outshot and completely dominated in the special teams battle.
“I think we came to [Bonnyville] and didn’t realize how tough it would be to play there. They’re a physical team and I think they intimidated us in the first two periods.” Said Crusaders rookie forward Garrett Clegg.
Clegg was the bright spot for the Crusaders in Tuesday’s game, extending his goal scoring streak to three games, and now has five on the season. The St. Albert product is second in the league among goals scored by a rookie.
After the dust settled on Tuesday’s game, the Alberta Junior Hockey League determined that the Pontiacs had used an ineligible player in their lineup. Thus, awarding the two points and victory to the Crusaders on Wednesday.
Certainly, the coaching staff will be overlooking the result, as they see it, the Crusaders were beat handily in that game.
“Well obviously it's a very tough league, and any time you can gain two points is important no matter how you do it. We'll take it as a break, but the bottom line for us is we need to learn from Tuesday and be way better heading into the weekend.” Noted Manah.
Sherwood Park has had a couple of days to prepare, what is thus far, the toughest weekend of the season as they face the defending league finalists and league champions back to back in Whitecourt and Brooks.
“We got back to the basics. It seemed like we forgot how to battle, compete, and play with good sticks. That equals to not so good defense. We pushed that at practice the last couple days in hopes that we will improve and get back to how we were playing at the Showcase.” Said Manah on practice the last few days.
Friday’s matchup on the road against the Wolverines will be the second meeting of the season between the two clubs. The Wolverines took game one of the six game season series, 4-3 in Overtime at the Sherwood Park Arena on September 24th.
The Crusaders are hoping to return the favor at the Scott Safety Centre.
“Going into Whitecourt won't be all that different than heading into Bonnyville for the fact that both rinks are extremely tough to win in. Whitecourt is a good skating club that will test us every shift, and put pressure on us to make mistakes. They compete extremely hard as we saw when they came to Sherwood Park, and again we will have to be ready to answer the bell.” Says Manah on the Wolverines.
The Crusaders will, among many things, be striving for more pucks on goal, as they only threw 19 pucks on goaltender Xavier Potvin in the 4-3 Overtime loss on September 24th.
“For us as a group we need to get back to doing the little things right. Getting pucks deep, aggressive on the forecheck, finishing checks, putting lots of pucks on net, and being hungry around the cage.” Added Manah.
Saturday, the Crusaders will welcome the defending AJHL Champions and RBC Cup finalists, the Brooks Bandits to the Sherwood Park Arena.
The Bandits haven’t had the greatest start to the 2017-18 season, sitting in fourth place in the Viterra South Division with a record of 4-4-0 heading into Friday. Brooks had a total of five regulation losses in all of 2016-17.
Brooks has endured a lot of turnover this past off season but do return some key elements from last season’s national title run.
Goaltender Mitchel Benson leads the crop of 11 returning players for the Bandits.
“We haven't seen Brooks at all this year, but we fully expect them to be a great hockey team just like they always are. They are well coached, always play with lots of pace and force you to defend them. We aren't looking at their record at all, we know they are a good team and they will pose a big challenge Saturday.” Said Manah.
The Bandits had their way with the Crusaders last season, outscoring them 14-2 in the two games the teams faced each other, including a 9-1 grubbing of the Crusaders at the Sherwood Park Arena. That win on December 4th was the Bandits first victory in Sherwood Park since 2006.
Brooks will be in Drayton Valley Friday night to take on the Thunder before coming to Sherwood Park on Saturday.
It is expected that goaltender Brandon Vogel should get the start in both games this weekend for the Crusaders. Vogel returned to the Crusader net after being out with sickness last Saturday, stopping 25 shots in the 5-1 victory over Olds at the Showcase.
A win Friday combined with a Spruce Grove loss would put the Crusaders in sole possession of first place in the Viterra North Division, something the Crusaders haven’t been able to say in the month of August for a few years.
-Story By Taylor Medak
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