A stellar game on tap Friday night at the Sherwood Park Arena as the Crusaders welcome the Spruce Grove Saints for a home-at-home series. Sherwood Park had another dominating 7-1 win on the road Tuesday in Drayton Valley, to improve to 18-1-0 on the season, and remain atop the AJHL North standings. Right behind them are the Saints with a record of 15-3-0.
This is the busiest I’ve seen this rink since I started covering the team, one of the bartenders tells me there are just 200 tickets left for tonight’s tilt. Sounds like Saints fans are making up a chunk of the crowd as well, with some pretty loud cheers as Spruce Grove hit the ice.
The Cru will have to shut down Ryan Peckford, he leads the Saints in scoring with 13 goals and 14 assists. Three of those goals game last Tuesday versus Lloydminster, Peckford also had three assists for a massive six-point performance. The Stony Plain product has six multipoint nights this season, including five points back in September versus Whitecourt.
Mathew Davis starts for the Saints, he’s having a great season and comes into Friday’s battle with an 11-1-0 record, a 1.90 GAA, and save percentage of .920. The home team counters with Detroit Red Wings prospect Carter Gylander, he boasts a record of 12-0-0, with a 2.14 GAA, and a .923 save percentage.
Here’s hoping for a back and forth battle, while the Crusaders are a blast to watch it’ll be nice to see the boys face some stiff competition.
A fast and physical start to the game with both teams trading hits. Some great forechecking by Sherwood Park to keep the puck mostly in the Spruce Grove end to start the first. Tanner Fincaryk took a kneeing penalty to put Spruce Grove on the powerplay. Max Wutzke broke his stick to turn the powerplay into a 5 on 3, he still made the most of the situation tying up one Saints forward behind the net. The Saints had a couple of great chances, but Gylander made a few beauty saves, including a very uncomfortable looking split save to keep it tied at zero.
Just seconds later a cross-checking call on Spruce Grove put the good guys on the man advantage. Some stellar saves by Mathew Davis and a painful sounding blocked shot by a Saints defender helped to kill off the PP.
A slashing call behind Sherwood Park’s net put Michael Benning in the box for two minutes, but the Cru limited the chances and kept clearing the puck to keep it 0-0.
The Cru started the game with an aggressive forecheck, but as the period began to wind down it was Spruce Grove taking control. Sherwood Park was able to cut down on any solid looks, but the Saints were spending more time in the Cru’s end.
At the end of the first, it’s tied at zero. The shot clock reads 10 all.
A powerplay just 30 seconds into the second frame for Sherwood Park. The Cru struggled to get set up until halfway through the man advantage, they had a couple of okay chances, but they managed just one solid shot on the powerplay.
Two Crusaders and two Saints were in a pileup in one of the corners behind the Saint’s net taking themselves out of the play, which opened up some ice for Michael Benning to blast one from the top of the circle and open the scoring. Kaden Bryant with the lone assist on the goal.
The lead didn’t last long though, Spruce Grove answered back just seconds later to tie the game at one, with a goal from Riley Bodnarchuk, with helpers from Cam Mitchell, and Zachary Douglas.
Back on the powerplay for Sherwood Park as Ryan Peckford put himself in the box on a goalie interference call. The Cru went right to work with a couple of blasts from the point, but Mathew Davis had an absolute stone-cold glove save to prevent a goal on a wide-open net. The Saints killed off the rest of the PP as the Cru struggled to get back into the offensive zone.
The Saints killed off another powerplay and made it 2-1 just seconds after it expired. Cameron Chin went top shelf glove side to beat Gylander, Colson Gengenbach with the assist.
Sherwood Park turned it on to end the third, spending a couple of minutes peppering shots on Davis. I had to count the players on the ice to make sure it wasn’t a powerplay, the Cru were putting so much rubber to the net.
We head into the third with the Saints leading 2-1, the shot clock shows 30-19 for the home team.
The Saints start the third with a powerplay, Reid Irwin took an interference penalty with just 8 seconds left in the second. Jarred White looked to have a shorthanded breakaway after blocking a pass at the blueline, but the Saints were able to catch up and break up the play.
The powerplay ended with Spruce Grove sending a man to the box for tripping to put the Cru back on the man advantage, but Sherwood Park didn’t capitalize on the opportunity.
Michael Benning put himself in the sin bin a second time with a high stick, but the Cru had a solid effort on the penalty kill to keep it a one-goal game.
Max Wutzke went to the box for boarding halfway through the third. It didn’t look dirty from my angle, but the Saints player turned just as he was heading into the boards and went head first, luckily he was okay. Brennan McDonnell was also sent to the box for roughing after the whistle for the scuffle that followed the hit.
Another solid PK by the Crusaders, Brett Wieschorster had a brief breakaway but Mathew Davis stopped the shot.
The Saints made it 3-1 just before the 8-minute mark, Cole Basnett went in on a breakaway to beat Gylander glove side, Graham Gamache and Zachary Douglas with the helpers. The Cru called a time out shortly after to calm the boys down.
Gylander was pulled with two minutes left the extra attacker led to a couple of good shots for the Cru but it wasn’t enough. Spruce Grove wins with a final score of 3-1, handing Sherwood Park just their second loss of the year.
- The Crusaders had plenty of shots on net, they finished with 39 to the Saints 32. A great goalie was able to keep them limited to just one though.
- It was a close game that didn’t seem out of reach until the last quarter of the third period, even then Sherwood Park had a couple of chances with their goalie on the bench.
- A great start for Sherwood Park they came out flying with a strong forecheck.
- Tonight was the first game I’ve seen this season where the Cru’s passing looked rough. A lot sloppy passes to exit the defensive zone were picked up by Spruce Grove. I also saw many hail mary passes trying to string a player on a breakaway be broken up at the blueline. They need more simple crisp passes like we’ve been seeing all season long.
- They didn’t give up a powerplay goal but you can’t give the Saints five opportunities on the man advantage. Many times it looked like the Crusaders were starting to gain some momentum, only to find themselves back on the PK.
- Sherwood Park started with a disciplined game, but as the game went on you could see the frustration build. More and more pushing and shoving after the whistles. It didn’t hurt them tonight, but I thought the Cru were improving in the discipline department.
- The Crusader’s powerhouse topline was held off the score sheet tonight, with all three of the league’s top scorers on your first line you have to make something happen offensively.
The Sherwood Park Crusaders head to the Grant Fuhr Arena Saturday for a rematch with the Spruce Grove Saints. Puck drop at 7.