We’ve reached the 10 game mark of the Crusaders 39th season. Right now, they sit in fifth in the AJHL North Division with a record of 5-4-1… not bad for a team that has 15 rookies occupying their roster.
The results have been mixed, but the effort has always been present. Typically, the team has had no trouble against teams in a slump like the Drayton Valley Thunder- who they played against in consecutive nights on opening weekend – and the Canmore Eagles – who were on a four-game losing skid at the time. In those three games alone, the Crusaders were able to light up the buzzer 18 times. A massive win for this young lineup came against the Olds Grizzlys at the annual AJHL Showcase in Camrose. The Cru found themselves down by 1 after two periods in a tight competitive game. However, in the third period, whatever Head Coach Adam Manah told his players during the break clearly lit a spark; they came out and scoring five unanswered goals whilst completely dominating the period. It was a beautiful thing to watch. Their fifth “win” came against a matchup against the Bonnyville Pontiacs. It was discovered that the Pontiacs had played an ineligible player which gave the Crusaders the automatic W.
On the flip side of this, when this team comes up against a more experienced and tougher opponent they’ve struggled greatly. Following their opening weekend victories over the Thunder, the Cru hit a hard part in their schedule with Camrose, Whitecourt, and Spruce Grove all coming to the Sherwood Park Arena in the space of 6 days. They played well, for spurts, in all of those games, but were unable to perform for 60 minutes which has been their biggest downfall so far. They did manage to take away a point in the game against the Wolverines. To start out October, another rough patch in their schedule came up with two away games against the Bonnyville Pontiacs – which they ended up “winning” – and the Whitecourt Wolverines. The Bonnyville game was their worst game this season. They got smoked 7-2 and didn’t show much sign of life. As for the Whitecourt game, it was definitely a competitive matchup, but the Wolverines bigger and stronger forwards pushed them over the line. Most recently, they took a loss to the defending AJHL champions, Brooks Bandits, despite leading the game 2-0 early in the second.
Overall, they’ve been outmatched by experience and the chemistry that all these veteran teams have. It’s not been a matter of skill, the Crusaders definitely have plenty of that. Once the young players can become more familiar with each other, the team will find themselves on the winning side of these close games more often than not. That might not be this season, however, those days are not too far away for this highly talented young Crusaders roster.
- Brandon Vogel, when healthy, has been excellent between the pipes. He’s the type of goaltender that gives you a chance to win each and every night. Vogel currently holds a 2.81 GAA – in five starts – and has three wins under his belt which leads all rookie goaltenders in the North Division. If he hadn’t of missed games due to illness the Crusaders could’ve found themselves on the opposite side of those closes games.
- Their offense has shone brightly at times. In all four of their victories, they’ve been able to score 5 or more goals; it’s difficult for teams to keep up with that.
- A number of their rookies have stepped into their roles well especially forward Garrett Clegg and defenceman Tyler Pang. Clegg may have the hardest shot on the team; along with his fast release he’s a major threat. He loves to shot the puck and once he gets more accurate he’ll be a league leader in goals. As for Pang, his vision, puck ability, and offensive mind has benefited the team tremendously. He’s been a great addition to their powerplay and also their offense as a whole.
- The veterans lead by example on this team. Ty Readman has shown up in clutch moments, most noticeable against the Canmore Eagles when his two third period goals helped secure the victory. His linemates, Merritt Oszytko and Brandon Wallis are both having a breakout season at the perfect time. Oszytko is second on the team in goals with seven, whilst Wallis is only five points away from tying a career high in points.
- General Manager, Kyle Chase was a busy man over the summer having to bring in so many new veteran faces. The players he’s brought in, however, have slotted nicely into the team. Dylan Stewart had a nice stretch between the Camrose game to the Olds matchup scoring nine points over that time. He’s gone quiet as of recent but will likely get back to his scoring ways sooner rather than later. His linemate, Ryan McKinnon has struggled offensively (1G, 3A) but his physical game hasn’t taken a hit. On the backend, newly named captain Brendan Kallis has added some offense to his physical presence. His three-points are good enough to be the second highest scoring defenceman on the team.
- The inability for this team to compete for 60 has been displayed in every one of their losses. They’ve been present in every game, however, it’s only been for short periods of time. These veteran teams they’re going up against don’t stop playing for even a second. The Crusaders have got to figure out a way to do the same.
- They’ve been known to blow leads. This was displayed against both the Whitecourt Wolverines and Brooks Bandits; games in which the Crusaders held the lead for a good chunk of time. Luckily, they were able to salvage a point against Whitecourt, however, that couldn’t do the same against Brooks which resulted in them coming out empty handed.
- If their top two lines don’t score nobody else does. Only Garrett Clegg has been effectively scoring goals (5) from the third, but he was recently moved up to the first line with Merritt Oszytko and Ty Readman. Ashton Casault is the next highest scorer with two.
- Their powerplay has been brutal as of late. In their previous three games, they’ve been unable to produces anything causing them to go 0/10. Passing the puck around is all that seems to happen whilst on the odd man, the pucks needs to be thrown to the net more often. You’re not going to score if you don’t shoot.
William Zapernick has been superb to start out his Crusaders career. He’s arguable the hardest working player on team and you rarely see him take a shift off. His point total might not be anything crazy (1G, 4A) but his work ethic is through the roof. He finishes every check, battles hard on the boards, and shows great speed. Number 16 will be an exciting player to watch once he can get his offensive game rolling.
1. Ty Readman
What a start to the season Ty Readman has had both on and off the ice.
The third year forward became first player this season to commit to a postsecondary after he signed with Northern Michigan University, he took home the week one Offensive Player of the Week award, and, now, leads his team in points with 15.
So far, Readman has been an exciting player to watch and easily the best Crusader. I’d expect more of the same from him as the season goes on.
2. Dylan Stewart
Stewart has showed his abilities tremendously during his short period of time with the Crusaders. He’s a big bodied power forward who can score goals. The former WHLer has struggled recently, scoreless in his last three, but when he has still be a presence for this team. He’s solid in the face-off circle and still brings a good physical fact to the game. Stewart has slotted into his role as the teams second line centre men well, looking forward to seeing him get more comfortable in this team.
3. Brandon Vogel
When he played, Brandon Vogel was solid for the Crusaders posting 2.81 GAA along with a .903 save percentage. The two losses he has to his name and through no fault of his own. He’s the difference maker for this team every night. The Crusaders are lucky to have such reliable goaltending behind this young lineup.