Written with the help of Tony Brar
FINAL SCORE: Sherwood Park Crusaders 4 Bonnyville Pontiacs 1
It was “Fan Appreciation Night” at the Sherwood Park Arena but in the second half of a home-and-home with the Pontiacs, the Cru struggled to put on a show. The first period came out very fast and physical as if there was some leftover angst from last night. The Cru gave up a quality scoring chance seven seconds in but forechecked hard afterward to try to sway momentum. Bonnyville goaltender Robert Jacobson robbed Cam Reagan on a cross-crease save and the Pontiacs surged back in the other direction, drawing a penalty with 8:42 left in the period. The Pontiacs capitalized 25 seconds into the power play to take a 1-0 lead, thanks to Alden Dupuis.
Bonnyville AP Garin Butler was fierce on the puck and was able to draw a cross-checking penalty on Reagan with 6:02 left in the first. It would be the Crusaders, however, that would ultimately have the advantage as Alex Rotundo buried his 19th goal of the season on a shorthanded breakaway.
The Cru would start the second frame with a man advantage of their own, where both teams would trade breakaways in the same sequence, but neither converted. Zac Klassen made a marvelous save at one end of the ice and then got to spectate as Matt Dykstra nearly buried one at the other end—just striking iron.
The pace had significantly changed in the second period, as the Cru offense went into a proverbial shell for the most part. They only managed one shot in the frame, but they made it count as Jesse Zaharichuk cashed in on a tantalizing individual effort, capped off by a wrap-around, backhand beauty with 15 seconds left on the clock. That came 30 seconds after they had taken a timeout.
The third period started similar to the first, with Klassen forced to make two quick saves in the first 11 seconds.
The Cru offense still hadn’t woken up from the nap they took in the first intermission; ten minutes into the final frame they had managed just their second shot in 30 minutes of hockey.
Fatigue appeared to be a factor as the game trudged along and the sloppiness became more and more apparent.
With 9:23 left in the game, Gen Bryshun, of the Pontiacs, caught Jacob Thomas with a hit to the head—a play that ended up costing both players the rest of the game. Thomas sat out with an injury while Bryshun received two and ten for head contact.
Shortly thereafter the Pontiacs discipline let them down when Tyler Maltby’s rush drew a cross-checking penalty that gave them a two-man advantage. The Cru capitalized on that chance with Maltby’s team-leading 34th goal of the year, courtesy a sly little tuck play set up by the aforementioned Zaharichuk.
That goal sealed the deal. Despite being outshot 32-17, the Cru scrapped out an ugly 4-1 victory.
Coach Adam Manah attributed the W to solid goaltending and quality shot blocking.
“The game is a funny thing—we thought we played a pretty good game yesterday, which we probably should’ve won. And then today we didn’t play very well but yet we come out with two points. That’s just the way it works sometimes but we’ll take it,” Manah said.
- The play of Zac Klassen really helped stem the tides during his team’s offensive absence. He racked up a .969 save% on the night while picking up his 21st win.
“The biggest thing is he gave us a chance to win, and that’s what you need out of your goaltender. I thought he controlled his rebounds well. He didn’t spit out too many to the slot. He just made himself look big in there, which is important for him because he’s not the biggest guy in the pipes,” Manah said.
“When he plays that way we probably have a pretty good chance to win every night.”
- Zaharichuk was a real creator for his team tonight, collecting a couple of points and acting as a true facilitator when he had possession.
- Captain Ben Sowa was his usual stalwart self on the point, looking practically unbeatable on the back end.
- The Cru brought the physicality at different junctures of the game to help swing some energy back in their favor.
- They were able to capitalize on the few opportunities they had tonight.
- The Cru really looked fatigued and had a hard time maintaining puck possession in all three zones.
- Their offensive rushes really came in bursts, meaning they didn’t have much-sustained pressure all night long.
- Jacob Thomas didn’t return after taking the high hit. Depending on the length of his injury, this could be a tough loss in the home stretch of the season.
THE TURNING POINT:
After the Pontiacs had carried some sustained pressure over from their fourth power play opportunity, the Cru were forced to ice the puck. Coach Adam Manah called a timeout with 46.9 seconds left in the second period and 30 seconds later Jesse Zaharichuk buried a dagger into the back of the Bonnyville net. The Pontiacs weren’t able to provide an answer for the whole rest of the game.
The Crusaders host the Whitecourt Wolverines this upcoming Wednesday, the 15th at the Sherwood Park Arena. The season series is split two games apiece, so far.
“They compete very hard and they’re very good structurally and we’ll have to make sure that we’re all hands on deck if we’re going to beat them,” Manah said.
Last time out the Cru were drubbed 6-0 at home, so one can assume they’ll be looking to avenge that defeat. The puck drops at 7 pm.