After dropping their 3rd game of their last 4 games, the Sherwood Park Crusaders were hungry for a win. The North Division leading Crusaders(37-6-0), were looking to get back on track after dropping a 3-2 decision in Bonnyville on Wednesday night. A bounce-back wasn’t going to be easy, as the AJHL leading Brooks Bandits(38-5-1) came to town, in a similar spot to the Crusaders. The Bandits started off a a 2 game Northern road trip with a shock 4-3 loss to the Lloydminster Bobcats, and the defending Centennial Cup champions had lost 3 of 5 thus far in 2020. Carter Gylander got the start for the Crusaders, while Pierce Charleson got the nod for Brooks.
The game couldn’t have started much better from a Crusaders perspective, as a Michael Benning point shot tipped off of William Zapernick just 18 seconds into the period, getting the Crusaders off and running. Things got worse quickly for the Bandits, as Phillip Waugh took a penalty just 17 seconds later, which Sherwood Park capitalized on, as Jarred White found a loose puck in the crease and pounced on it, giving the Crusaders a 2-0 lead just a minute and 35 seconds in. After the quick start that saw the Crusaders hold a 7-0 shot advantage, the teams traded chances until the 7-minute mark of the period, as Tyler Bates potted a loose puck for his first career AJHL goal to cut the Cru lead to one. Momentum seemed to be favouring Brooks, as Carter Savoie went to the penalty box shortly after the Brooks goal, giving the Bandits an opportunity to tie the game. Crusader captain, Arjun Atwal had other ideas however, taking a pass from Mike Benning, and streaking in shorthanded, before making a slick move to the backhand and burying the third goal of the game for the Crusaders. Sherwood Park didn’t wait long to strike again, as just 27 seconds after the Atwal goal, Savoie left the penalty box, knocked over the Brooks defender with the puck, and eventually took a pass from Jarred White, and ripped a shot blocker side on Charleson, giving the Cru a 4-1 lead heading into the 2nd period. Shots were 17-11 in favour of Sherwood Park.
Brooks came out flying in the 2nd, as they looked to claw back into this game. They had the first 8 shots of the period, but couldn’t crack the Crusaders defense, nor the play of Carter Gylander, who was superb throughout the game. The Cru didn’t get their first shot of the period until almost seven and half minutes in, but they made good on it, as Savoie one-timed a pass from Benning past Charleson, growing the Cru lead to 5-1. A period of penalties saw six different players sit for two, as each time took three penalties, but the penalty kills held firm and the score remained the same, until the 13 minute mark of the period, when Devin Phillips and Sean Chisholm played a nice give and go, which resulted in a rocket from Chisholm going bar down on Gylander, to cut the lead back down to 3. Shots in the period were 15-8 in favour of Brooks, for a two period total of 26-25 Brooks.
Both teams knew what this third period meant to each other, and came out to prove what they were about. The Crusaders dominated the first 5 minutes of the period with a multitude of chances, including one by Arjun Atwal that Charleson had to be sharp to stop. This run of play continued, until Savoie finished his hat trick off in style by going round the Brooks defender, before being hauled down. He then got back up and slid it five-hole to give the Crusaders a 6-2 lead. Despite the large deficit they faced, the best team in the league refused to die, as they continued to push until finally breaking through the stronghold that was the Crusader zone. Chisholm threw the puck on net and it found a way through Gylander, who was screened on the play and cut the lead to three with 4 and half minutes left in the third. The Bandits would then strike again, as Ryan McAllister tipped a point shot past Gylander and gave the 1900 fans in attendance reason to stay, trailing by 2 with 2 and a half minutes to go. The Cru never wavered, holding firm until the very end, where White sent the puck into the empty net just before the buzzer, giving the Crusaders a 7-4 win over the Brooks Bandits. Carter Gylander made 33 saves for the win, while Pierce Charleson made 24 saves in a second straight loss.
- Special Teams were a major factor for the Crusaders as the Cru scored once on the power play and once while shorthanded, while also going perfect on the penalty kill
- The Cru were very efficient defensively, not allowing many high quality chances towards goal, and slowing down the high-powered Bandits offense.
- Despite taking an early lead, the Crusaders never let off the gas in a game many called a statement win for the club
- While the penalty kill was perfect on the night, giving a team like Brooks four power play opportunity is playing with fire
- Sherwood Park got a big win, but allowed too many odd man rushes for my liking, forcing Gylander to make some big saves, including a blocker save he got a finger on.
The Crusaders host the Drayton Valley Thunder at the Sherwood Park Arena tomorrow afternoon. Puck drop at 2:15 p.m.