The AJHL”s North Final shifted to Spruce Grove tonight with the Sherwood Park Crusaders up 2-0 on the Saints. While the Crusaders grabbed both of the first two games, they really just did what they had to do. As the division champions, they had home ice advantage this round and in my opinion, it’s imperative to hold home-ice advantage earlier in the series. To be blunt about it, the Crusaders simply took care of business early in this series and now the really tough part starts, finding a way to win on the road and come home with a chance to win the series. Tonight proved to be a tough task and honestly, the Grant Fuhr Arena can be an intimidating barn. The Crusaders know how to take advantage of a great home crowd, they’ve done it all playoffs, but this would be a great test as to how they would react to a hostile rink.
The Crusaders got outworked and out skilled in the first ten minutes and it showed on the scoreboard. Before the Cru even had a shot on goal, they trailed 3-0. Matt Berlin was getting absolutely peppered and could only hold off the Saints attack so many times.
It was pure domination from the Saints and they kept pouring it on. Sherwood Parks first good chance didn’t come until there was just 7:52 to go in the frame. Jack Hamly had another decent chance around the five-minute mark, but other than that, the Cru were silent.
After 20 minutes, the Saints held a 3-0 lead.
The second period started much better for the visitors. They began generating some offensive looks and it appeared that they were going to find a goal and start piecing together a comeback effort, then they got called on a pretty weak penalty. They killed that one off, but then immediately went down five-on-three.
Their penalty kill looked good, but the Saints would strike with just six seconds to go on the Weischorster goaltender interference penalty and extend their lead to 4-0.
The Cru would begin to draw some penalties themselves as well and they would capitalize on a five-on-three powerplay of their own when Michael Benning fired home a one-timer.
The rest of the period was pretty tight, but when the buzzer went, the Saints were still up 4-1.
Things got wild in the third period or maybe a better way to put it is that both teams got really stupid. They let the rivalry get the best of them, which can be expected in a game that was a bit of a blowout, but there’s still going to be at least two more games in this serious. Losing your cool the way both teams did often means you’re just risking getting suspended for a crucial game three. The incident where Will Zapernick point blank dropped his gloves was a good example of that.
The two teams would combine for 96 penalty minutes in the third period.
The Saints would tack on one more, and then also have one waved off. The Crusaders got another five-on-three late in the game and would capitalize on an Arjun Atwal backhander.
Just when you thought things were over, the Cru would actually bat home one more and make it a 5-3 game. They would pull their goalie in the final minute but weren’t able to bring the score any closer. The Saints walked away with a victory and cut the Crusaders series lead to 2-1.
If the Crusaders can play like they did in the final 40 minutes, then they can win game three. It’s simple as that. They just couldn’t overcome a bad start.
- Ignore the fact he got pulled, Matt Berlin was strong tonight. He was bombarded with rubber and held the Crusaders in it as best as he could.
- Michael Benning may have been the Crusaders best player tonight. The young defenseman made a handful of really nice plays in his own end while Sherwood Park was being smothered by the Saints. He worked the powerplay well.
- Gylander was good in relief stopping close to 20 shots and only letting one get past him.
- The fact they can get back at it tomorrow and not have to sit on this one is important to me. Wipe the slate clean, remember what made you successful in game one, and get back at it tomorrow.
- At the end of the day, this isn’t the end of the world from the Crusaders. If they can hold home-ice advantage, all they need to do is win one game in Spruce Grove and they can still wrap this up in six games.
- Scoring three on Matt Davis would feel good as well. I was worried he would be in a zone and steal this series, I don’t think that’s the case and the Crusaders offense should feel confident.
- Once things started going bad, the Crusaders just couldn’t stop the snowball from rolling down the hill. They needed one of their forward lines to step up and deliver a momentum-changing shift and they simply didn’t get that.
- Don’t care how good a team is, you can’t give up over 50 shots and expect to win a hockey game. Crusaders need to keep the Saints to the outside or get in the shooting lanes more. Anything to prevent your goalie from having to face that much rubber.
- Strictly as a reporter, I must say, the weird thing the Saints do with their sticks after they score might be one of the dumbest things going on in the AJHL. I just don’t get it. It doesn’t look cool or anything. Am I missing something?
- I don’t like ragging on the referees, but tonight they needed to put their whistles away. I understand wanting to keep control of a game, but you do that by taking guys during the post-whistle scrums, not by calling every single little interference/slashing penalty that happens.
- Discipline was a factor for the Cru as well. A few of the penalties they took were deserved and came at points where it looked like they were starting to build some momentum.
The Crusaders won’t have to sit on this one for very long as game three goes tomorrow night back in Spruce Grove. Puck drop goes just after 7 pm. We’ll have a Cru Wrap as soon as the buzzer goes.