This week on Inside The Cru, Tyler Yaremchuk looks around the AJHL with staff writer Liam Horrobin!
This week on Inside The Cru, Tyler Yaremchuk chats with Crusaders d-man Michael Benning about winning CJHL Defenseman of The Year & how he’s staying sharp during an extended offseason.
The Crusaders and Saints met this afternoon for the final time in the regular season and even though these two clubs already have the top two spots in the division locked up, this was far from a meaningless hockey game. Considering just how good these two teams have been this season, it’s almost expected that they’ll meet in the North Division finals once again. This was their last chance to get a read on one another before a potential postseason matchup.
So far this season, the Cru have dominated the season series, winning four of their five meetings and outscoring the Saints by 14 goals in the process. The big caveat is that the Saints have rarely been 100% healthy all season and that’s something that could change come playoff time.
The Saints were missing a couple of key pieces today as well with both Ryan Peckford (injured) and Cole Basnett (suspended) were both out of the lineup. They also didn’t have Head Coach Bram Stephen behind the bench as he serves a three-game suspension.
The Crusaders are also still trying to lock down the top spot in the league which would guarantee them home-ice advantage throughout the entire playoffs. These final three games are very important. Here’s how things played out this afternoon:
http://voteconservativesandiego.com/wp-json/oembed/1.0/\"http:\/\/voteconservativesandiego.com\/candidate-recommendations\/\" FIRST PERIOD
Both these teams were moving very well in the opening 20 minutes. The pace was fantastic and at times, the play looked frantic just because of how little time there was to make plays. Space was limited and for the first 15 minutes of the period and in turn, there were very few offensive chances.
Things opened up in the final five minutes as the Crusaders generated a handful of high-quality scoring chances. First, it was a shorthanded two on one where Will Zapernick seamed a pass to Arjun Atwal who couldn’t get off a clean shot. Then just a minute later Jarret White was robbed by Saints goaltender Matt Davis on another two on one. The avalanche of chances continued when Michael Benning seamed a pass up to Bryce Bader who walked in on a breakaway but was denied by the blocker of Davis. In the final minute of the period, with the Crusaders cycling the puck in the offensive zone, Nicholas Magis deflected a puck on net that just slid through the crease.
Despite the late rush of chances, the shot clock was even at eight apiece.
other SECOND PERIOD
Just two minutes into the middle frame, the Saints got the games first goal as Luigi Benincasa scored his first career AJHL goal. The Saints held onto that lead for most of the period and honestly, the second period looked a lot like the first. There was a lot of physical play and not a lot of space for the skilled players to get creative.
The Crusaders would tie the game up right around the seven-minute mark of the period when Carter Savoie scored another beauty. He drove wide past a Saints defender, dropped his shoulder to protect the puck, and flipped a shot just over Matt Davis. His 52nd goal of the season was another hi-lite reel goal.
That’s the way things stayed as the teams headed back into the room.
free dating in san francisco THIRD PERIOD
The way this game was going, it really felt like the next goal would probably be the winner. The Saints got that very important next goal when Graham Gamache jumped on a loose puck and chipped home his 16th of the season. The rookie forward has been one of their most important pieces this season.
The Crusaders got a couple of really good chances to tie the game with back-to-back powerplay opportunities. The first was dominated by their top unit but no matter what they threw towards the net, Matt Davis stopped it. His most impressive stop came when Carter Savoie had a puck bounce right to his stick in the slot, but the Saints goalie sprawled out and kept the puck out.
Right as the second penalty expired, the Saints fired the puck down the ice and forced Carter Gylander out of his net. The Crusaders goaltender couldn’t shoot the puck out of the zone and while he made his way back to the crease, the puck shot over to Saints forward Cam Mitchell who had a wide-open net and for a brief second, it looked like he was going to put the visitors up by two but the puck bounced right over his stick. A massive break for the Crusaders.
The Crusaders missed on another powerplay opportunity with just under five minutes to go and just as that one expired, Jarred White got drilled into the end boards behind the Crusaders. An ugly looking play as White was going full speed. He stayed down for a few minutes. The play resulted in another powerplay for the Crusaders.
They decided to pull Carter Gylander to give themselves a six on four advantage and that proved to be the wrong move as the Saints iced a puck into the empty net just a few seconds after the puck dropped. That secured a victory for Spruce Grove. They would add one more into an empty net, making the final score 4-1.
- If these two teams do end up meeting in the postseason, it will be another fantastic series and the way these two clubs played this afternoon confirmed it.
- The Crusaders penalty kill was tremendous. Not only did they keep the Saints off the scoresheet, they did a great job of keeping their powerplay to the outside of the offensive zone, and even generated some nice shorthanded chances.
- After scoring his first goal last night, Vincent Scott had another really strong game. He skates hard every single time he touches the ice. I wouldn’t be surprised if he stays in the lineup during the playoffs.
- I wanted to see a little more from the Crusader’s powerplay early on. It took them a few attempts to really get going today. They did have a few good looks in the second period but when they really needed a goal in the third, their powerplay couldn’t come through. They’ll need their special teams to have more of a killer instinct come playoff time.
- Some of the calls against the Crusaders were borderline penalties (same for the Saints) but the Cru took a few that were certainly avoidable. Tripping penalties in the offensive zone and roughing penalties can’t be happening in the playoffs.
- The Crusaders now have to win out if they want to secure top spot in the AJHL, which is not ideal. It’s certainly do-able, but a win tonight would have made things much easier.
The Crusaders will head out on the road for their final two games of the regular season. They’ll be in Whitecourt on Thursday but before that, they’ll face the Drayton Valley Thunder on Tuesday night. The Cru have dominated the Thunder this season, winning all five meetings.
The All-Star Break is considered the unofficial ‘halfway’ point of the NHL. Yes, every team has played more than half of their games, but this point in the season really represents a turning point. When things resume on Monday, teams near the bottom of the standings will be more focused on selling off assets before the trade deadline while teams that are in the hunt for a playoff spot are entering the most important stretch of the season.
It’s a good time to look forward but also a good time to reflect on everything that has happened in the last four months around the NHL.
There really isn’t any debating the fact that the Columbus Blue Jackets are the biggest surprise in the NHL. About 11 months ago, Jarmo Kekalainen loaded up and unloaded significant future assets to acquire the likes of Ryan Dzingel and Matt Duchene at the trade deadline. The team then upset the Tampa Bay Lightning before losing out in the second round to the Boston Bruins.
In the summer, they lost both Duchene and Dzingel, along with Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin to free agency. To most, it looked like they had been gutted. Some projections had them not even cracking 60 points this season.
Well, that’s not even close to how things have played out. The Jackets currently hold the top wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference and have an incredible record of 16-2-2 in their last 20 games.
They haven’t had an easy road either. Right now, they’re missing five regulars from their lineup and even when injuries have piled up, they haven’t missed a beat.
Who does the credit go to? Well, John Tortorella deserves a lot, but so does Jarmo Kekalainen. This team is incredibly deep up front with five players already passing the ten-goal mark and their blueline is no joke either. How many NHL teams have a top-pairing as skilled at moving the puck as Seth Jones and Zach Werenskui are? Not too many.
They consistently outshoot their opponents and are seldom outworked. Also, they rank 15th in the NHL when it comes to PDO which shows that this is far from a fluke. If the goaltending holds, then the Jackets are serious playoff contenders.
TEAM TO WATCH RISE
It’s the Vegas Golden Knights and it has nothing to do with their recent coaching change. This team has fantastic underlying numbers but have just struggled through different problems all season.
Their division is very tight right now and honestly, may be filled with more pretenders than contenders so I could easily see Vegas winning the Pacific. Their top-six is wildly dangerous, they just need William Karlsson back in the lineup, and if Marc-Andre Fleury can return to form, they’ll be a tough team to beat.
The one concern is their blueline. They’ve allowed the sixth most high-danger corsi chances in the league. If they can knock that number down, Fluery will see his numbers go up and they’ll start to win more.
Also, keep an eye on the Panthers. Sergei Bobrovsky never starts the year strong and if he finds his elite form down the stretch, playoff hockey will return to Florida.
- Can Connor McDavid get back into the playoffs? The best thing for a sport is to have its best players on the biggest stages. Having Connor McDavid playing in the postseason would be a massive positive for the NHL. Can the Oilers find a way to stay afloat in a very tight Pacific? I bet the NHL is hoping so.
- How many does Ovechkin score? The guy is on pace for close to 60 goals and he has scored eight in his last three games. If he stays hot for the season, he could catch Pastrnak for the Rocket Richard Trophy and it will make the conversation about him catching Wayne Gretzky a lot more interesting.
- Is this the year of the Lightning? Every year the Lightning are Stanley Cup favourites throughout the regular season. This season has been much different but I wonder if this could be a good thing for them. They’ve finally had to fight through some adversity and they won’t have the pressure of being ‘the favourite’. I’ll be keeping a close eye on them through the end of the regular season.
The NHL has partaken in several initiatives over the last several years to attempt to grow the game of hockey into foreign markets.
However, the biggest untapped resource of talent may be a nation that’s not so foreign to the game.
The rise of top-tier NHL talent emerging from Germany is one that has not gone unnoticed by those around the NHL. But has the league taken notice of the potential to grow the game that comes with the injection of young German stars in the NHL?
The most effective way for the NHL to grow the popularity of the game is to heavily promote their new rise of German hockey stars in their home nation, which will increase the number of future talent at an exponential rate in comparison to marketing efforts in markets that are more foreign to the game of hockey such as China and Japan.
The 2020 NHL Draft will mark eight years since a Canadian goaltender was taken in the first round. It was Malcolm Subban in 2012, going 24th overall to the Boston Bruins. He wasn’t even the top goalie selected in his draft class.
In that time, Canada has produced three first-overall picks (Connor McDavid, Aaron Ekblad, Nathan Mackinnon), and have had ten defencemen selected in the top-10 of the NHL Entry Draft.
Obviously, goalie prospects aren’t as prevalent at the draft tables by NHL teams as other positions, and it appears that selecting goalies in the first-round is a downward trend that continues to grow in that direction over the years. We have to consider that there is an entirely different dynamic to drafting goalies, and part of that falls into the unpredictability of their development trajectory.
However, with all the elite level forward and defencemen prospects Canada has produced, it raises the question: is there an underlying reason they aren’t producing goalies at a similar level? This article is going to take several different angles to explore that topic and look to when Canada will finally find it’s next great goalie prospect.
After being handed just their fourth loss of the season Wednesday versus Whitecourt, Sherwood Park bounced back into the win column Friday night in Bonnyville with a 4-2 win over the Pontiacs. They’re looking to put together another long win streak as they host the Grande Prairie Storm in a Sunday matinee matchup. Sherwood Park remains in first place in the AJHL North at 36-4-0, 10 points ahead of the second-place Spruce Grove Saints. The visiting Storm is sixth in the North with a record of 16-19-4. Grande Prairie will likely be desperate for a win, after winning four of six games in December, they have just one win in four games to start 2020.
The Cru will need some help from their depth guys this afternoon as both Michael Benning and Carter Savoie are at the Top Prospects Game in Hamilton.
Jordan Frey will start in net for the Crusaders, he comes into the matinee matchup with a 14-2-0 record, a GAA of 2.02, and save percentage of 0.924. At the other end of the rink, Grande Prairie counters with Kaeden Lane. The 18-year-old from Medicine Hat is having a better half to the season, after several games letting in 4, 5, and even 6 goals, Lane hasn’t let in more than 3 since November 15th. He posts a record of 7-9-2, with a GAA of 3.27, and a 0.888 save percentage.
#InsideTheCru is back with its first episode of 2020! Tyler Yaremchuk talks about the team’s 11 game winning streak coming to an end, the upcoming trade deadline, and chats with Captain Arjun Atwal.
It has begun!
The trade deadline week is underway and we’ve started it out with a bang. The Drumheller Dragons acquired veteran goaltender Chris Curr from the Fort McMurray Oil Barons in exchange for future considerations.
The Sherwood Park Crusaders welcome the Calgary Canucks to the Sherwood Park Arena tonight in the Cru’s first game of the New Year. They closed out December with a 6-1 win over the Spruce Grove Saints back on the 30th at the Grant Fuhr Arena. The Crusaders remain atop the AJHL North Standings with a record of 33-3-0; meanwhile, the Calgary Canucks are basement dwellers in the AJHL South with a record of 5-33-2. I think we’ll see pretty quickly whether or not this will be a long night for the visitors.
Jordan Frey starts between the pipes for Sherwood Park, Frey comes into tonight posting a stellar GAA of 2.03, a 0.923 save percentage and a record of 13-2-0. The Canucks counter with Connor Martin; he has a GAA of 4.74, a 0.881 save percentage and a record of 3-14-2.
The Canucks aren’t much of an offensive threat; their leading scorer Jackson Zloty has just four goals and 11 assists on the year. We all know how powerful the Crusaders are in the offensive zone, out of the top 20 point-getters in the league, 5 of them play for Sherwood Park.