This week on #InsideTheCru Tyler Yaremchuk recaps a huge week for the Cru & recaps the first half of the season with Liam Horrobin.
Some of the most entertaining games on the entire AJHL schedule this season have been a product of a matchup between the Spruce Grove Saints and the Sherwood Park Crusaders. It shouldn’t come as a surprise either. The Saints are the defending AJHL Champions, as they reminded me earlier today on Twitter, while the Crusaders are better than they’ve been in years and currently sit atop the AJHL’s North Division.
At the Christmas break, the Sherwood Park Crusaders find themselves in unfamiliar terriority at the top of the Viterra North Division. They’ve already matched their season total from last year (54) with 25 games still left on the schedule.
That means it’s time for the BTI crew to hand out their Halfway Awards for the players that have stood out so far in this memorable season! Let’s hand out some hardware!
Liam: Matt Berlin
Since rejoining the team back in September, Matt Berlin has elevated this team’s play with arguably some of the best goaltending displays in the AJHL. The team plays with so much confidence knowing he’s between the pipes, and it’s extremely rare that he lets them down. Berlin brings a lot off the ice too with his great leadership and has been able to mentor the team’s rookie goaltender Carter Gylander. Without him in goal every night, the Crusaders wouldn’t be in the spot they are right now.
Tyler: The Goalies
I was going to say Matt Berlin, but then I decided that would be unfair to his partner in crime, Carter Gylander.
While Berlin has been one of the best and most consistent goaltenders in the entire AJHL this season, Gylander is right with him in almost every statistical category. In 12 starts, Gylander has a 9-2-1 record. While Berlin has handled the bulk of the workload, Gylander has played in some tough games and delivered win after win. They both are a huge reason why the Cru are where they are at this point in the season.
Ian: Carter Savoie:
Savoie leads the team in scoring this year and has been a play-maker for the Cru all year long. He’s a danger to score every time he’s on the ice for them.
Rookie of the Year:
Liam: Carter Savoie
I am not sure the AJHL has seen a 16-year-old come into the league and dominate as much as Carter Savoie has. He started the season out playing with Arjun Atwal on the top line, but then Atwal was hurt. It was going to be interesting how well he played without Atwal considering how dominant they had both been. However, Savoie excelled scoring 30 points in 21 games while also making his teammates around him look great. He leads the team in points with 49 points and is second in the AJHL behind only William Lemay from the Brooks Bandits. At the rate Savoie is going, we will see him be a first-round pick at the 2020 NHL Draft.
Tyler: Carter Savoie
Are we going to be super lame and all vote for Carter Savoie? PROBABLY! But how can you not! He’s top five in AJHL scoring, and HE’S ONLY 16-YEARS-OLD! What he’s doing this year is ridiculous. This is going to go down as one of the best seasons by a 16-year-old in AJHL history. He’s that good. Michael Benning has been great as well and deserves a lot of credit. What he’s doing as a defenseman is incredible for a player of any age, never mind a 16-year-old. Benning is a straight up stud. Gylander has been spectacular as well. But I’m hearing Savoie could be in the conversation for league MVP, that says a lot.
Ian: Carter Savoie….again:
Once again the importance of Savoie to this team shines through in him being my Rookie of the Year. Not only does he lead the team in scoring he currently sits in third place in the league.
Defenceman of the Year:
Liam: Michael Benning
Much like his fellow Denver Unversity commit Carter Savoie, Michael Benning has taken this league by storm. You can see the confidence growing in his game every night at both ends of the ice. Often, when you have an offensive defenceman, they can be a defensive liability. That is not the case with Benning. In 35 games, Benning is almost a point-per-game player with 32 points (3 goals, 29 assists) and is tied for third amongst the defenceman across the league in points. At the season end awards, he may be not only a candidate for Rookie of the Year but also Defenceman of the Year in the AJHL.
Tyler: Michael Benning
I suspect there’s going to be a lot of consistency when it comes to how our voting goes, but my vote here goes to Michael Benning. He’s almost a point-per-game as a defenseman. That’s impressive no matter how old you are. To be doing it in your rookie season is spectacular. His defensive game continues to get better, and I suspect he’ll be even more impactful in the second half of the season.
Ian: Michael Benning:
Benning is a true play-maker on top of being a solid shut down defenseman. He’s the Cru’s fourth-leading scorer on the team, and his passing is something to be amazed by. At just 16 years of age, he was also a candidate for Rookie of the Year.
Liam: Michael Bentz
Michael Bentz was the team’s Most Improved Player award last season, and at the midway point, he could easily win it, again. He came into the season a much better player, and a little dental work a couple of months ago has really benefitted him. Since he’s had to wear a bubble cage, Bentz has been forced to focus more on his offensive game and be a more well-rounded defenceman. He’s getting time on the powerplay now which is something we would only see in blowouts last season. The second-year Crusader has taken massive strides in the first half of the season, and fans should be excited for what’s to come in the second half with him.
Tyler: Will Zapernick
The high-end talent on this team gets a lot of the attention, but the secondary scoring has been fantastic this year. A big reason why? Will Zapernick. Last season he played in 54 games and posted a stat line of 13-21-34. This year? 19-16-35 and he’s only played 34 games. That’s quite an improvement, and that doesn’t even shine a light on his improvement in the defensive zone.
Ian: Garrett Clegg/William Zapernick:
It’s hard not to throw Clegg in here as he’s already surpassed all last year’s point total by 11 in just 30 games. But I’m throwing Zapernick in here too he’s tied his points total from last year just 34 games in and shows a real veteran presence in just his second season with the Cru.
Acquisition of the Year:
Liam: Brett Wieschorster
Brett Wieschorster was brought in to bring a different level of play to the Crusaders organization, and he has done just that. He plays a heavy physical game and loves to get into the oppositions grill. However, he all brings an offensive element to the game and has already surpassed his career-high from last season with 18 points (9 goals, 9 assists) in 32 games. We’ve seen the Vermont commit play up and down the lineup and have success with it. There aren’t many players on any roster that can do that.
Tyler: Nick Bowman
The move to bring in Nick Bowman has worked out incredibly. He’s notched 11 points in 7 games and brings so much more than offence. He plays a physical brand of hockey, and his WHL experience gives this forward group a needed veteran presence — a very astute move by GM Kyle Chase.
Ian: Jack Hamly:
It’s still early with Hamly playing just under ten games with the Cru, but he’s averaged a point per game since recently joining the team and is proving to be a solid contributor.
Liam: Brayden Hyland
With the injuries Brayden Hyland has had to go through in his junior hockey career it’s remarkable that he’s still playing. It also shows the type of player/person he is at the determination he has. Hyland is now in his final season of junior hockey but is technically still a rookie under the AJHL rule book after only playing a handful of games the past few seasons and all missing the entire 2017/18 year. The Edmonton native has worked his way into an everyday role on this team after being a healthy scratch to start out the season. In 26 games, Hyland has 15 points (7 goals, 8 assists) with very little (if any) top six minutes. He brings that depth scoring to the Crusaders which could be a big factor for them once March rolls around.
Tyler: Cody Laskosky
There are plenty of candidates, but I’ll say Cody Laskosky. Every time I watch him play, I notice him make a couple plays away from the puck that impresses me. He’ll bust his ass back and break up a scoring chance on a regular basis as well. I really like what he brings to this team.
Ian: Carter Gylander:
Both goaltenders have been outstanding for the Cru this year but add to that the back up in Gylander picking up a 9-2 record in 12 games and a 2.29 GAA which has allowed his team never to miss a beat when giving their starter a night off.
The season picks back up again on Friday when the Cru head to Lloydminster to take on the last place Bobcats from the Centennial Civic Centre Arena. With 25 games left to play it will be exciting to see how this year’s team will wrap things up!
There are ten players on pace for 50 goals, how many will actually hit it?
TYLER YAREMCHUK: Alex Ovechkin appears to be a lock at this point. He’s on pace for over 60 goals, so I can’t see him cooling off too much. Patrik Laine, Jeff Skinner, David Pastrnak, Brayden Point, Joe Pavelski, Sean Monohan, and Nathan MacKinnon all have 20+ right now. I think Laine, Skinner, Pastrnak, Point, and MacKinnon could all realistically do it. MacKinnon is only shooting 15% too, this is very sustainable.
Keep an eye out for Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews as well. Matthews was hurt and if he’s healthy, could torch the league in the second half and I would never bet against McDavid to do anything. I could see as many as eight players hit the 50 goal plateau.
WYATT ZIEGER: It’s crazy to think the last two seasons we’ve had zero players score 50 goals and this year we could have three.
IAN SHEPPARD: I believe there are only three players in the top ten right now who could legitimately reach 50 goals this season. Alex Ovechkin has reached the 50-goal mark seven times in his career and is already halfway there this season with 52 games left to be played.
Patrik Laine has yet to hit 50 in his career but came close last year with 44. He currently sits at 21 and his rocket of a shot should net him another 29. And finally, Nathan MacKinnon, who the closest he’s come to 50 was 39 goals last year. MacKinnon has 20 through 31 games this year but with the assist-master Mikko Rantanen on his wing, MacKinnon will hit 50 goals for the first time in his career this year.
Lots of rumours swirling around the St. Louis Blues, who is most likely to get moved?
TYLER YAREMCHUK: Doug Armstrong is a very bold General Manager, but I’m not sure we see any of their big names moves this season. They all come with big cap-hits and have term, so I’m not sure how many contending teams could realistically squeeze them in unless the Blues take back a contract which I’ve heard they aren’t keen on doing.
Out of the big names, I think Colton Parayko has the best chance to be moved on. There will be no shortage of teams willing to pay a hefty price for the 25-year-old right shot defender and if the Blues create a bidding war, they could get an offer they can’t refuse.
WYATT ZIEGER: Sad times in St.Louis, a huge offseason saw them acquire Ryan O’Reilly from Buffalo but that hasn’t panned out the way they hoped.
IAN SHEPPARD: Two names come to mind on this topic. Patrick Maroon and Jay Bouwmeester. Not because of trade value but because both are UFA’s at the end of the season and make over $8 million this season combined. Could be good pieces to move by or before the deadline.
I don’t see them moving pillar pieces like Vladimir Tarasenko or Colton Parayko, but Alexander Steen or David Perron are also veterans that could be moved to free cap space. Over the next three seasons, Steen is said to make $5.75 million while Perron will come with a $4million cap hit over four years.
Out of the teams currently not in a playoff spot, who is most likely to make the big dance?
TYLER YAREMCHUK: The Eastern Conference does not look very good to me. The Penguins are the only team outside of the playoffs that I could see making the playoffs, so they’ll be my answer from there.
Out West, I like Dallas and Minnesota, but I’ll give the edge to the Stars. I love their high-end offensive weapons and I’m excited to see what their blueline looks like once they’re 100% healthy. Miro Heiskanen has been a sensation as well. Just looks so smooth and calm. Hard to believe he’s a rookie. Ben Bishop needs to stay healthy as well, but I think the Stars could be a playoff team. As far as who could miss? I’m not a big believer in the aging Anaheim Ducks.
WYATT ZIEGER: The Easy answer is Pittsburgh because its the obvious answer. The Penguins haven’t missed the playoffs in 9 years and don’t expect that trend to drop off.
IAN SHEPPARD: Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens currently sit three points out of the final Wild Card spot in the East. Pittsburgh has been in this position before and come through and the veteran leadership of Sidney Crosby, Evgeny Malkin and Phil Kessel this team will find a way to make it back to the postseason.
Now there have been rumours that the team may be moving some pieces like Kessel, while goaltending has been a question mark at times for them this year, but I still believe this team finds a way. They always do.
This week on #InsideTheCru Tyler Yaremchuk chats with newest Crusader Jack Hamly & gets set for a huge week of games.
A clean week saw the Sherwood Park Crusaders go 3-0. Tyler Yaremchuk breaks it all down and is joined by Cru forward Garrett Clegg on #InsideTheCru
This summers crop of RFA’s is star-studded. Which player is most likely to have a Nylander-esque holdout?
TYLER YAREMCHUK: Brayden Point, Matt Tkachuk, Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Jake Guentzel, and Kasperi Kapanen are all RFA’s who are on teams that could be tight to the cap when all is said and done. But I’m going to give two names who I think could potentially hold out next season.
First is Mitch Marner. Auston Matthews is going to be priority number one for Kyle Dubas, which could push Marner’s signing date back a little. We know that Dubas isn’t afraid to wait until literally the final hour to get a deal done and I get the sense that Marner won’t be in the mood to take a discount if neither Nylander or Matthews did.
Kyle Connor is in a similar spot to Marner. He is a fantastic young player on a team that has both tremendous offensive talent and salary cap troubles. Patrik Laine is also an RFA, so Connor is no doubt priority number two for the Jets.
IAN SHEPPARD: Sorry Leafs fans. You’re destined for another lengthy holdout. Auston Matthews will be an RFA at the end of the 2018-19 season and for me, it won’t be automatic that the deal gets done right away. Taking Connor McDavid’s deal from a few years ago into consideration, Matthews will want something similar if not more with inflation and the idea that McDavid signed for slightly less than he could have.
Matthews seems like a player with a strong business sense who won’t for less than what he thinks he deserves and given the Nylander and Tavares deals along with Mitch Marner also coming up on the end of his ELC, getting Matthews locked up could be a long process.
WYATT ZIEGER: The Lightning are a team that would really benefit from the cap going up the extra 4 million as its expected too. Especially if they have a hope in hell of re-signing Brayden Point.
We are pretty much at the 1/3 mark of the season. Who is your Stanley Cup favourite?
TYLER YAREMCHUK: There’s a list of teams I really like this season. The Preds and Jets look good out West while the Leafs and Capitals both look unstoppable at times. I wanted to find a sexier pick, but I gotta go with Tampa Bay. Every year the “experts” call them the Stanley Cup favourite and every year they seem to lose out, but this year seems different. Their roster is loaded, they have some fresh young talent making an impact, and I like to think that they’ve learned their lesson from years past.
IAN SHEPPARD: The Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning are currently leading the league with 43 points and have two players in the top-10 in points. They lead the league in goals and have a roster stacked with talent, with a top-6 lineup that can produce points consistently and a defensive unit that is loaded with all-star talent.
They are without a former Vezina-Candidate in Andrei Vasilevskiy in net who is out with a broken foot, but they have been able to survive thus far while they await his return. Tampa has been on the verge of a Cup the last 5 years or so and for me right now this could be their year.
WYATT ZIEGER: Pave the way for Smashville baby.
With Seattle officially coming into the NHL, which city would you most like to see get an NHL franchise (via relocation)?
TYLER YAREMCHUK: I really want to say Quebec City, but it just isn’t realistic until the dollar figures itself out. That’s unfortunate because I think the league would really benefit from an eighth Canadian team. The obvious answer to this question is Houston.
Arizona has been on life support for what seems like a decade and now that they’ll be moving to the Central Division when Seattle shows up, the transition from the desert to Houston will be rather seamless. Houston is a good sports city and they have a rather large TV market, which is huge for the NHL and their Board of Governors. It isn’t working in Arizona and if they don’t figure out their arena situation soon, that organization could be H-Town bound.
IAN SHEPPARD: I have to pick a Canadian city. Especially when the next American city to have its name tossed into the hat is Houston and that just doesn’t feel right. With 7 teams in Canada currently, four in the west and three in the east, I think to balance things out, putting a team in Quebec City or potential Hamilton would be the best thing to see for hockey fans up north.
WYATT ZIEGER: I’ll say Houston for a couple of reasons.
This week on #InsideTheCru Tyler Yaremchuk breaks down a busy week off the ice for the Sherwood Park Crusaders and chats with the newly acquired Nick Bowman.
This week on #InsideTheCru Tyler Yaremchuk talks about the team’s red-hot play in November and chats with goalie Carter Gylander:
The Crusaders Head Coach, Adam Manah, joins Tyler Yaremchuk this week on #InsideTheCru to discuss the Cru becoming one of the AJHL’s best teams.