The Crusaders managed to squeeze out another first game win in their second series of the 2019 AJHL Playoffs. In a series that is going to be as close as this one, taking the lead early on is huge. The team now has an opportunity to continue what they started in Game 1 of the series and take the home game sweep before even touching the ice in the iconic Grant Fuhr Arena. Which will put the team in a great position to move on to the AJHL Final.
The 4-2 win on Friday came anything but easy for the Crusaders, as they had to rely on a late 3rd-period goal by Reid Irwin to take their first lead of the game, which would be the eventual game-winner. Tonight they plan on getting off to a better start for yet another stellar turnout of fans at the Sherwood Park Arena.
Here’s how things went down:
An early penalty forced The Crusaders to kill off a man advantage within 30 seconds of the opening puck drop. They were successful, but the Saints were able to maintain zone possession for almost the entire 2 minutes and generated 2-3 quality scoring chances that were turned away by Matt Berlin.
The Crusaders would later get a chance of their own on the man advantage. However, it did not generate any good looks at creating scoring chances, as the Saints penalty killers never allowed the Cru to get set-up.
Garrett Clegg would use his foot speed to spring himself into a breakaway but was stripped off the puck just before he was able to get a shot off.
The Crusaders did not have very many shots on net this period, but each and every one of those shots was a dangerous scoring opportunity. The Saints dominated time on the attack but Sherwood Park was able to slide out of the first period tied at 0-0.
A tic-tac-toe passing play started by Carter Savoie and William Zapernick behind the Saints net was finished off by Arjun Atwal from the slot to put it past Matt Davis in the opening minute of the second frame.
Tanner Fincaryk took a stick to the face during an after the whistle scrum to put the Crusaders on their second powerplay of the night, but yet again the Crusaders failed to get set-up on the man advantage. The best scoring chance of the Crusader’s powerplay actually came from a shorthanded breakaway for Saints defencemen Cory Babichuk, who was shut down at the hands of the Berlin wall.
However, Babichuk would soon settle the score when he started a rush up the ice that led to Parker Seretsky beating Berlin to bring the score back to being tied.
That wouldn’t be the case for long though, as Brett Wieshchorster came down on a 2-on-1 and lasered the puck past the glove side of Matt Davis and regain the lead again at 2-1 Cru.
The same powerplay that had been applying all kinds of pressure to the Crusaders penalty killers found a way to capitalize right off the faceoff of their next powerplay, as Cam Mitchel won the faceoff clean to Parker Seretsky in the slot who let off a quick shot that caught Berlin off guard and brought the score to 2-2.
The Saints would dominate the rest of the period as they caused the Crusaders to have troubles just getting out of their own zone. If it weren’t for the sensational play of Berlin there is no way the Crusaders are even within an arm’s length of being in this game. The score is 2-2 heading into the final frame, and the Crusaders should be thanking Berlin for that.
The period could be highlighted by the close to 30 minute delay caused by a broken glass behind Berlin’s net. It was a flukey play that broke the glass and resulted in the teams having a significant amount of time to rest up before going into the final few minutes of war.
Carter Savoie would generate a chance for the Crusaders when he layed his shoulder down and drove right in front of Davis, leaving a wide-open rebound up for grabs but the Saints defense beat the Cru to the puck and were able to get it out of the zone.
For the rest of the period, the Crusaders were absolutely under siege. They couldn’t get out of their own zone for the life of them. And every time they managed to get the puck in the offensive zone the Saints would break it out within seconds and head right back on the rush where they would regain pressure.
The Saints would get two powerplay opportunities in the final ten minutes of the game. It was at this time that Crusaders had all the weight on their heels, and if it weren’t for multiple players stepping up to make huge character plays I can guarantee you that the Saints would have scored during one of those powerplay opportunities.
The biggest standout ‘character plays’ were by Michael Bentz, who blocked two consecutive shots during the Saints powerplay and then later laid a thunderous hit on Saints defencemen Tanner Hickey to give the team some much-needed momentum. Michael Benning also made a huge late period play when he shut down Stanley Cooley from getting a potential game-ending breakaway chance. The last play I’m going to point out was Atwal’s blocked shot on the penalty kill with under two minutes left in the game. The blocked shot allowed the Crusaders to clear the puck out and the Saints powerplay was never able to set back up. To see one of the teams most offensive players lay it all out on the line like that shows that this is a team that has bought all into doing whatever it takes to win.
The period is over, and this game is headed to overtime. The score: 2-2. The shots: 39-12 Saints.
It looked as though these teams had completely switched around from the rest of the game to now. I don’t know what switch flipped for the Crusaders but they were all of a sudden able to maintain significant time in the offensive zone and were generating a plethora of scoring opportunities. It would eventually be paid off when they went on the powerplay, as Benning slid a pass over to Atwal, who was tee’d up on the wall and rifled a one-timer past Davis to miraculously win the game for the Sherwood Park Crusaders.
The 3-2 overtime win puts the Crusaders up 2-0 in the series as they now play games 3 and 4 in Spruce Grove at Grant Fuhr Arena.
- Even though the Crusaders were not generating very many scoring opportunities at all, the opportunities they did generate were all dangerous, all of them.
- Berlin was an absolute wall. He was in some kind of zone and put aside everything the Saints could throw his way.
- The three character plays made by Bentz, Benning, and Atwal late in the third period show that this team has completely bought into doing whatever it takes to win hockey games and are willing to lay it all out on the line. They don’t win without guys stepping up like that.
- Michael Benning stood out tonight. There wasn’t one time that he threw the puck away. He doesn’t always put the puck in the right place, but the key thing is that he always knows where the puck is going. Putting it in the right place will come, but the fact that he has the poise at this age to stay calm and collected while under pressure to put the puck where he wants is amazing to watch. We are far from seeing the ceiling of Benning.
- There was one difference between these two teams that caused the final shot count to be 41-15 in favor of the Saints. One difference. The Saints could break out of their zone and the Crusaders couldn’t. The Cru could create real dangerous opportunities, the problem was they could never get out of their own zone, and whenever they did get into the offensive zone the Saints would break out and be back on the rush in a matter of seconds.
- The team was on their heels all night and any time a goalie is relied on as much as the Cru relied on Berlin it’s not a good night for the team; even if you do come out with a win. The Crusaders probably didn’t deserve to win tonight and they know that. The series would have been in a tough place if they lost tonight, and there is no way they are going to take this win for granted. Expect a motivated team in Game 3.
- The Crusaders were dominated by Spruce Grove’s special teams. Even though the Saints went 1 for 6 on the PP and the Cru went 1 for 3. The Saint’s powerplay was putting on close to 2 minutes of offensive zone pressure almost every man-advantage they got. The penalty killers also didn’t give the Crusaders any opportunity to set up until overtime, and the one time the Crusaders were able to set-up, they scored.
The Crusaders take the ice at Grant Fuhr Arena Monday night at 7:00 pm as they look to extend their lead in on the Spruce Grove Saints with all eyes watching who will take this year’s Suburb Series.