This week on #InsideTheCru Tyler Yaremchuk breaks down the Crusaders weekend road trip & talks to rookie forward Nick Magis.
This week on #InsideTheCru Tyler Yaremchuk recaps a highly successful first month of the season for the Sherwood Park Crusaders & talks with AJHL Player of the Month Carter Savoie.
I don’t think the Sherwood Park Crusaders could have dreamt up a better start to the season than they just had. Through one month of play, the Crusaders are 7-0 and have been winning rather decisively.
They got the year going on home ice with a 7-5 victory over the Lloydminster Bobcats and from there, they defeated the Bobcats once again, the Thunder, the Wolverines, and the Oil Barons by a combined score of 19-6.
From there, they went on the AJHL Showcase in Camrose and put their dominance on display in front of the entire league. They kicked off the weekend with a 6-3 win over the Drumheller Dragons and then capped off their Showcase with a thrilling 6-5 victory over the Okotoks Oilers.
Even though they’re ranked 2nd in the CJHL, you could make an argument that the Sherwood Park Crusaders are still not at their best. Carter Gylander has had a tough start to the season posting a 3.55 GAA to go with an 0.855 SV%. Even Gylander himself would likely admit that he was not his best in September. You can’t blame him either. He was in Russia with Team AJHL and didn’t see any game action during the JCWC. The fact that he came to camp late, after spending time overseas, and not playing a game is a good enough reason to cut Gylander a lot of slack. He’ll be better as the season continues.
Jordan Frey has picked up the slack though. He’s started his Crusaders career with three wins in three starts, one shutout, a 1.50 GAA, and a 0.915 SV%. He was dynamite, and for me, he’s been the biggest surprise on this roster through seven games.
Here are some other storylines from the first month of play:
Go to www.AJHL.ca and click on the “League Leaders” link. A page will pop up that shows you who has scored the most points in the entire league so far this season. The first three names are all members of the Sherwood Park Crusaders’ top line.
Simply put: Arjun Atwal, Carter Savoie, and Will Zapernick have been virtually unstoppable through seven games. The trio has combined for 53 points through their first seven games. That’s a staggeringly good number.
I said at the beginning of the season that if this trio played together, they would be the highest-scoring line in the AJHL. They’re living up to the hype, and right now, I can’t see a scenario where Adam Manah would want to break them up.
Their top line is scoring, but they’re also getting contributions from the back end. Michael Benning is over a point-per-game, and Brennan McDonnell has four points in seven games. Upfront, Jarred White and Jacon Franczak have provided the secondary scoring. Both players are over a point-per-game. Getting that depth scoring is what will help later in the year and into the playoffs, and it’s something I’ll be keeping a close eye on as we roll through the season.
A NEAR PERFECT PENALTY KILL
They have not allowed a powerplay goal so far this season. Their PK is a 29-for-29. To me, that is a testament to how much these players are willing to fight for each other and how much they’ve bought into what Adam Manah and Jeff Woywitka are preaching.
The powerplay was ice cold to start the season, but they’ve since found their groove, and now they have the best powerplay percentage in the league (28.13%). When they were struggling, Head Coach, Adam Manah told me that it was simply some guys gripping their sticks too tight and some guys just not being in mid-season form yet with the puck on their stick. He was right not to be concerned. That group is too talented to not get hot with the man advantage at some point. Now it’s a matter of them staying hot and proving they can consistently be good.
GM Kyle Chase was busy in September, as he often is, and added a pair of former WHL players to a forward core that was already one of the deepest in the league.
Blake Sydlowski was brought in after being released by the Red Deer Rebels, and while he hasn’t registered a point quite yet, I think he’ll be an impact player by the end of the season. Same with Davis Murray. The Former Oil King has only appeared in two games with the Cru, but I liked him during his time in the WHL. Once these two get acclimated to the AJHL, I think they’ll start to stand out.
PLAYER OF THE MONTH
It absolutely has to be Arjun Atwal. The Crusaders Captain leads the league in scoring and got some recognition from the league, being named the Offensive Player of the Week.
I loved the decision to make Atwal the team Captain. I think he’s an excellent leader both on and off the ice. This month, he’s been their leader on the scoresheet as well. His offensive production is outstanding, and what I love about Atwal is even if the offence dries up (which I doubt it will) he’s still a guy who won’t change his game. He’s solid at both ends of the rink, and honestly, I think he’s the heartbeat of this team.
If you want to hear more from Arjun, you can listen to my interview with him on ‘Inside The AJHL’ HERE.
LOOKING AT OCTOBER
The Crusaders will take to the ice 12 times this month (5-home & 7-away) starting with a three-game southern road trip that will see them take on the Canmore Eagles, Okotoks Oilers, and Olds Grizzlies. From there, they will return home for three straight games (Fort McMurray, Drumheller, Drayton Valley).
One thing that jumps off the page to me: four matchups against the Oil Barons. We saw these two clubs develop a bit of a rivalry last season and there were some heated moments in their first game of the season earlier this month. For the full schedule, HEAD HERE: https://admin.esportsdesk.com/leagues/schedules.cfm?selectedMonth=10&selectedYear=2019&selectedTeamID=536976&selectedOfficialID=0&leagueID=3464&clientID=1705&embedLID=3464&embedCID=1705&whichSched=main&mixed=1&teamID=536976
The Crusaders are off to a great start to the 2019/20 campaign. Tyler Yaremchuk breaks it all down and chats with goaltender Jordan Frey in this weeks episode of #InsideTheCru
The last time these two teams met was on March 24, 2019. It was game six of the second round of the AJHL playoffs and not only did the Crusaders win the game 5-3 but they eliminated the Fort McMurray Oil Barons from the playoffs.
It capped off a series that saw the two teams score 33 and rack up a combined 246 penalty minutes. It was high flying and skilled hockey but it was clear that these two teams did not like each other one bit.
So heading into tonight, I was expecting more of the same. Lots of offensive chances and lots of extracurricular activities, if you know what I mean. Here’s how things went down from the SPA:
The Crusaders came out flying in the opening frame. Head Coach Adam Manah had his top line of William Zapernick, Arjun Atwal, and Carter Savoie, who combined for 11 points last night in the win over Whitecourt, and tonight that trio got off to a solid start. They possessed the puck in the Oil Barons zone for almost the entire first shift and immediately after they came off the ice, the Cru got their first grade ‘A’ scoring chance courtesy of Brett Weischorster.
The Cru peppered ten first period shots at Oil Barons goalie Evan Fradette but he turned them all aside. Fort Mac was able to muster just three shots at Jordan Frey, who got the start in lieu of Carter Gylander (it was scheduled before Gylander was pulled in last nights win), and the first-year Crusader handled them all with ease.
We went into the second period with the scoreboard showing a pair of zeros.
There was a lot of late hits in the first period, which was just each team trying to establish some sort of physical dominance, but nothing too over the top. The second period was more of the same. Each time was trying to play a physical brand of hockey, but there was nothing I would classify as ‘dirty’.
Carter Savoie got the Crusaders first good looks of the period, but he was stopped on back-to-back partial breakaways. Jarred White also got two great looks but he was also stopped. My biggest takeaway from the first few minutes of this period was that Fradette was absolutely locked in.
The home side would eventually strike first when Jarred White and Arjun Atwal perfectly executed a shorthanded two-man breakaway which resulted in White firing home his first goal against his former team. The lead was short-lived as Logan Bromhead jumped on a loose puck and flipped it over a sprawled out Jordan Frey.
With under five minutes to go in the period, the Crusaders were gifted a five-on-three powerplay and they took full advantage. First, it was Michael Benning blasting a bomb from the point and then just seconds after, Carter Savoie let go of a one-timer from the bottom of the circle and made this a 3-1 game.
For the second straight game, the Crusaders entered the third period with a lead and for the second straight game, they did a fantastic job of protecting the lead.
They pushed the pace offensively while not taking any risks that would put their two-goal lead in jeopardy. Daron Cyr almost popped home his first career AJHL goal but rang it off the iron. The Cru also got another look on the powerplay but didn’t capitalize.
Emotionally, things never got as tense as they did during the playoffs last year… until the 14:05 mark of the third period when a scramble in front of the MOB net suddenly turned into a little bit of a melee. Brett Weischorster was naturally right in the middle of it and when he was led out of the scrum, he was fired up and so was the Crusaders bench. He was promptly tossed from the game along with Jacob Franczak and Oil Barons forward Hunter Lamb (son of former Oiler Mark Lamb).
44 penalty minutes were handed out on the play and the result was two minutes of five-on-three followed by a three-minute man advantage for the MOB (that eventually turned into a six-on-three advantage), which the Crusaders promptly killed off.
Will Zapernick would fire home an empty-netter and that would do it from the SPA on a Saturday night. The Crusaders played the most complete game I’ve seen from them this season and improved their record to 5-0 to start the 2019/20 campaign. 4-1 the final.
- I know I talk about them a lot in these wraps, but it is special to cover a team that has two high-end draft-eligible players. Savoie and Benning were the best players on the ice from the first period onwards. Watching those two work the powerplay was incredible and when they’re clicking, they simply cannot be stopped.
- In his first game against his former club, I though Jarred White looked very good. He brought a solid physical element, as he always does, and had four or five high-quality looks in the offensive zone. Was nice to see him get a goal as well.
- Jordan Frey continues to impress me. In over four periods of work this weekend, he surrendered just one goal. Having two good goaltenders was a massive reason why the Cru finished first in the North Division last season and if Frey can keep this up, it will make life much easier for Head Coach Adam Manah and company.
- There were a couple of questionable hits throughout the game and the refs called them all. Credit to the Crusaders for not retaliating and negating a powerplay. Knowing how to walk the line of discipline can be the difference on a lot of nights. It’s an important trait to have.
- Coming into tonight, only the Crusaders and Olds Grizzlies had perfect penalty kills. Based on what I saw tonight, the recipe for success for Sherwood Park appears to be aggressiveness. They pour on the pressure and don’t let their opposition get comfortable at any point. They looked good tonight and got rewarded with a shorthanded goal.
- Their powerplay was running at just over 8% so far this season so it was nice to see them get rewarded with a pair of goals. They’ve looked good for the most part this season but just haven’t been able to score. “Gripping the sticks too tight” is what Adam Manah said to me earlier this week on Inside The Cru and now that they have some goals under their belt, I’m thinking things will start to snowball.
- Brennan McDonnell didn’t show up on the scoresheet, but he had a really solid game in my opinion. He broke up a handful of good rushes and made some smart plays. I liked him in both games this weekend.
- They had a lot of offensive chances in the first half of the game and they simply couldn’t bury them. Would have been nice for them to jump out and grab the lead earlier than they did.
- I didn’t win the 50/50 (it was a tough night to find things to put in this section of the wrap up).
The Crusaders get some time to rest up now and enjoy their perfect start to the season. They’ll be back in action on Thursday when they take on the Drumheller Dragons at the ‘AJHL Showcase’ in Camrose. Puck drop is set for 4:30 pm.s
It would be hard to a script a better start to the season for the Sherwood Park Crusaders. They’re 3-0 to kick off the 2019/20 campaign and even though they haven’t gone up against some of the consensus heavyweights, they dominated for long stretches in each game.
The Wolverines are coming off a season that saw them just win 21 games. This year, expectations are naturally a little bit higher around Whitecourt with Shawn Martin behind the bench for his first full season. Through three games, the Wolverines have certainly looked more competitive. They’ve gone to overtime or a shootout in every single game, dropping decisions to Bonnyville and Grande Prairie but also beating the Pontiacs last week.
There are a lot of positives to take from the first three games of the season for both sides. Tonight, the Crusaders were looking to improve to 4-0 on the year while the Wolverines were getting their first taste of road hockey this season.
The Crusaders immediately grabbed momentum in this one and it was one of their newly acquired forwards who got the first good look of the game. Blake Sydlowski, who was just brought in from the Red Deer Rebels (WHL) had a great look in the slot but just fired one over the net. That same shift though, the Cru got on the board as Sydlowski’s linemate Jacob Franczak scored his second goal of the season.
The home side wasted little time extending their lead as their top line took over the game for a three-minute span. Arjun Atwal, Will Zapernick, and Carter Savoie all found the back of the net. Calling it right now, if that line stays together, they’ll be the highest-scoring trio in the league and I don’t believe it would be particularly close.
The game was 4-0 just after the ten-minute mark and even though the Wolverines eventually got on the board, the entire opening frame was dominated by the Crusaders.
Before I could even flip over my notebook to start writing about the second period of action, Carter Savoie scored a potential goal of the year candidate. #8 walked out of the corner, turned a defender inside out, and fired an absolute laser over the glove hand of Vincent Duplessis.
That goal seemed to relax the Crusaders for the worse as they took for their foot off the gas and allowed Whitecourt to work their way back into this game. Two goals in under a minute courtesy of Tyler Mahan and Bjorn Robinson made this a 5-3 game.
Things evened up in terms of overall play for the final ten minutes of the period but the Wolverines found a way to find the back of the net one more time before the end of the period, making it a 5-4 game.
The Cru needed a good reset after a tough second period and they got it. They came out looking much, much better in the third and quickly took over the game. Brennan McDonnell potted his first of the season and then just a few minutes later, the top line struck again as Arjun Atwal fired home his second of the game.
There are going to be games where your goaltending bails you out. There are going to be games where you get goals from all four forward lines and your depth pushes you to victory. There are going to be games like tonight’s where you need your top line to carry you. Good teams win games when they’re playing their best. Great teams find ways to win even when it’s not their best night.
It wasn’t pretty at times, but their stars were their stars and the Crusaders found a way to get the two points and improve to 4-0.
7-4 the final.
- They got off to a blazing start, which is always great to see. It turns out that they really needed that good start but regardless, they’ve shown flashes throughout the year that they’re the elite team that most expect them to be. Tonight was no different.
- There are going to be plenty of nights where the top line of Zapernick-Atwal-Savoie take over games and I will never get tired of watching it. Those three were tremendous tonight, combining for 11 points.
- Michael Benning was really standing out early in the game. I thought he and his partner Reid Irwin controlled the pace of the game when they were out there and made some very savvy plays.
- Once they extended their lead in the third, they did not let up. It was nice to see them lock things down.
- Jordan Frey looked solid in relief. He was vocal between the pipes as well, which is something I like to see (or hear I guess).
- You just can’t fall asleep for stretches like they did tonight. Credit to Whitecourt for pushing back and grinding the way they did, but the Crusaders needed a big stop or a big momentum changing shift and they didn’t get it.
- Powerplay wasn’t great tonight and it hasn’t been too good all season. They could have used a big goal with the man advantage when they got the chance in the second period.
- Carter Gylander didn’t have a training camp and went to Russia but didn’t play a single game. That’s rough on a goalie and I think you can tell he’s a step behind where he was last season. He’ll figure it out though, just a matter of time. A goalie that talented often bounces back in a big way.
The Crusaders are back on home ice tomorrow night to take on the Fort MacMurray Oil Barons. Nothing confirmed, but I expect that there will be another new face in the lineup as the team announced earlier tonight that they’re bringing in former Edmonton Oil King Davis Murray. He should be an impact forward. Puck drop tomorrow night is set for just after 7 at the SPA. I’ll have your Cru Wrap!
This week on #InsideTheCru Head Coach Adam Manah joined Tyler Yaremchuk to discuss the teams 3-0 start to the season!
Last week, I took a look at three big topics from the Western Conference as the NHL slowly gets underway. Today, I’m shifting my focus to the East where I expect things will be vastly different than last year.
Big trades, big-name free agent signings, and the arrival of a pair of potential super rookies in the Metropolitan division could all drastically change the landscape. Here are my three stories to watch:
HOW FAR WILL THE JACKETS FALL?
At first, most people will point to the Columbus Blue Jackets and say that they’re the team most likely to a massive fall in the standings this season. I would tend to agree with that but I would like to add that I don’t believe they’ll be as terrible as some want to believe.
They still have some good young forwards in Pierre-Luc Dubois, Josh Anderson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Alex Texier to go with some proven goal scorers like Cam Atkinson and Gustav Nyquist. They could still put together a pretty solid top six with depth pieces like Boone Jenner and Nick Foligno.
Their defense will still be a massive strength with future Norris winner Seth Jones, Zack Werenski, and David Savard (who was a beast in the playoffs). If Ryan Murray is healthy, it will help out as well.
The biggest question mark is between the pipes and that’s where they lost the most this summer. Downgrading from Sergei Bobrovsky to a combination of Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins hurts and could be their downfall, regardless of the performance the group in front of them puts on.
We know that GM Jarmo Kekalainen isn’t afraid to make big moves, could he do something to bring in a goaltender before the regular season? Maybe he goes after Tristan Jarry from Pittsburgh, who I’m very high on.
One more quick note: I think the Islanders might fall harder than some are projecting. They rode a hot goaltender and some strong offensive performances last season. I think they’re going to slip further down the standings than some expect.
HOW GOOD WILL THE RANGERS BE?
While the Blue Jackets lost the most this summer, the Rangers clearly gained the most. They added Kappo Kaako and Artemi Panarin to a forward group that already had a fair share of exciting young talent. They added Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox to the right side of their defense as well. Between the pipes, they have Henrik Lunquist and Alexandar Georgiev. I still think Lundquist can be a number one goaltender and based on what I saw from Georgiev last season, he’s more than capable of filling in should Lundquist falter or need a break.
Now the question is how will everyone gel? It can be hard to predict how a lineup with that many new faces will perform, but on paper, you have to be incredibly optimistic about their ability to make a massive jump this season. Enough for the playoffs? I don’t know, but that group will be entertaining.
THE LIGHTNING. THAT IS ALL.
It’s the same story every year with the Lightning. They make a bunch of astute moves over the summer and heading into the season, everyone sits and goes ‘how is anyone going to beat them?’ and then at some point, they lose in the playoffs.
Last season, they were nearly unbeatable in the regular season but then got picked apart by a pesky Columbus Blue Jackets team. They should be a highly motivated group this year because there’s no doubt that their first-round exit stung, a lot. The other thing: they’re a lot better this year, at least on paper.
They added Kevin Shattenkirk and Pat Maroon on bargain deals and got Curtis McElhenney to be their backup, which might allow Andrei Vasilevsky to be healthy and rested. They got young players who can be counted on for some improvements. Simply put: they’re stacked.
Is this the year that the Lightning go all the way? Nobody knows. They’re good enough, but they’ve been good enough for a long time.
There are fewer things better than a season opener. Every team is optimistic about the season ahead. Everyone starts with the same record. For the Sherwood Park Crusaders, they’re hoping this is the start of a historic season. Expectations are high around the club and walking into the Sherwood Park Arena tonight; you could feel the buzz.
Here’s how things went down on night one of the AJHL season:
Weird things happen early in the season in a lot of leagues. The AJHL is no exception. Nevermind the first period, but the first five minutes alone had a little bit of everything. Right off the bat, Reid Irwin had trouble corralling a bouncing puck at the blueline, and it led to a quick breakaway for the Bobcats that was promptly turned aside by Carter Gylander. He was forced to turn aside three quality chances within the first five minutes.
The Crusaders would get on the board first as Brett Wieschorster buried the team’s first goal of the season. The lead was short-lived as just two minutes later, the Bobcats took advantage of some sloppy neutral zone play by the Crusader and tied the game at one. Only 30 seconds later, the visitors took the lead as former Crusader Cam Aucoin fired one short side over the shoulder of Carter Gylander.
The Crusaders got the benefit of three powerplays in the opening frame, and they took advantage. For those who have read these blogs for the past three years, you’ll probably know what I’m about to say, but I’ll repeat it for the newcomers: your powerplay doesn’t need to score goals to be effective. It sounds weird, but if you can go generate good pressure and get some positive momentum out of it, then it can be considered a success.
Sherwood Park did a good job of generating chances with both their first and second powerplay units (I also noticed a third combination of players at some point as well), and they got rewarded as newcomer Jarred White fired a shot that eventually found the back of the net.
If I’m honest, neither team played a great opening frame. You could tell it was the first period of the season. The Bobcats would walk back to the locker room with a 3-2 lead thanks to a late first-period goal.
Do you like goals? Because this game, and the second period, in particular, featured a lot of them.
The Cru got this game tied up just before the ten-minute mark when Carter Savoie jumped on a loose puck, notching the first goal of his NHL draft year. Up next, it was Nicholas Magis who scored his first career AJHL goal, which is always nice to see. As they did in the first period, the Bobcats were able to respond in a rather quick fashion, evening things up at four with a Chad McLean goal. Of the four Lloydminster goal scorers, three of the scorers had first names that started with ‘C’. Mark that down as your ‘Useless Stat of The Night’.
In the final 90 seconds of the period, the Crusaders put their pedal to the floor and managed to take a 6-4 lead with Will Zapernick and preseason superstar Connor Hart getting the goals (that’s seven in his last four games if you count the preseason games).
I don’t want to say that the Crusaders put it into ‘cru-se’ control in the third, but the period did not have the same intense feeling that the second period did. Again, it may just be that these guys don’t have their legs in mid-season form so naturally, they slowed down. Either way, the Crusaders played a pretty clean third period. Carter Gylander didn’t have to deal with too much, and Will Zapernick scored his second of the game (one of three AJHLers to have a multi-goal game tonight) which extended the lead to 7-4.
It looked like that’s how it was going to end, but with literally less than a second on the clock, the Bobcats fired a point shot that hit a couple of sticks and trickled home.
That’s where this one would end as the Crusaders overcame a rough first period and won their home opener by a score of 7-5.
- The Cru came out flying in the second period, and the first shift of that period really set the tone. The fourth line of Bryce Bader, Nicholas Magis, Zafir Rawji played a hard, physical shift. That line looked really good tonight, and they got rewarded with a big goal in the second period as well.
- Was nice to see a handful of different players get goals tonight. Every forward line had a player find the back of the net. Early in the year, it’s nice to see everyone get some confidence.
- While it wasn’t a perfect performance when the Crusaders cranked it up, they looked like the elite team they’re expected to be. The shot clock reflected that. The final read was 50-28 once the final buzzer went.
- They didn’t take their first penalty of the game until halfway through the third period.
- It feels great to be back in a rink! That’s it. That’s one of my positive notes. I’m just happy to be back.
- It’s the first game of the year, but this was honestly a pretty sloppy hockey game. Lots of mistakes in the neutral zone, lots of bounces pucks that couldn’t be settled down. It’s hardly a knock on either team, more of an observation. It’s early in the year, so it’s expected.
- They got bailed out by the goal post a few goal posts, and when you consider that this ended as a two-goal game, that’s not a great sign.
- A few too many odd-man rushes given up by the Cru. Gap control, making smart decisions at the offensive blueline and in the neutral zone were both problems.
The Crusaders will look to sweep their season-opening home and home series tomorrow night when they load up the bus and head to Lloydminster. The puck drops at 7:30 pm from the Centennial Civic Centre Arena.
With the season opener just days away, Tyler Yaremchuk chats with newly appointed Crusaders Captain Arjun Atwal & tee’s up the 2019/20 campaign!