It would be hard to a script a better start to the season for the Sherwood Park Crusaders. They’re 3-0 to kick off the 2019/20 campaign and even though they haven’t gone up against some of the consensus heavyweights, they dominated for long stretches in each game.
The Wolverines are coming off a season that saw them just win 21 games. This year, expectations are naturally a little bit higher around Whitecourt with Shawn Martin behind the bench for his first full season. Through three games, the Wolverines have certainly looked more competitive. They’ve gone to overtime or a shootout in every single game, dropping decisions to Bonnyville and Grande Prairie but also beating the Pontiacs last week.
There are a lot of positives to take from the first three games of the season for both sides. Tonight, the Crusaders were looking to improve to 4-0 on the year while the Wolverines were getting their first taste of road hockey this season.
The Crusaders immediately grabbed momentum in this one and it was one of their newly acquired forwards who got the first good look of the game. Blake Sydlowski, who was just brought in from the Red Deer Rebels (WHL) had a great look in the slot but just fired one over the net. That same shift though, the Cru got on the board as Sydlowski’s linemate Jacob Franczak scored his second goal of the season.
The home side wasted little time extending their lead as their top line took over the game for a three-minute span. Arjun Atwal, Will Zapernick, and Carter Savoie all found the back of the net. Calling it right now, if that line stays together, they’ll be the highest-scoring trio in the league and I don’t believe it would be particularly close.
The game was 4-0 just after the ten-minute mark and even though the Wolverines eventually got on the board, the entire opening frame was dominated by the Crusaders.
Before I could even flip over my notebook to start writing about the second period of action, Carter Savoie scored a potential goal of the year candidate. #8 walked out of the corner, turned a defender inside out, and fired an absolute laser over the glove hand of Vincent Duplessis.
That goal seemed to relax the Crusaders for the worse as they took for their foot off the gas and allowed Whitecourt to work their way back into this game. Two goals in under a minute courtesy of Tyler Mahan and Bjorn Robinson made this a 5-3 game.
Things evened up in terms of overall play for the final ten minutes of the period but the Wolverines found a way to find the back of the net one more time before the end of the period, making it a 5-4 game.
The Cru needed a good reset after a tough second period and they got it. They came out looking much, much better in the third and quickly took over the game. Brennan McDonnell potted his first of the season and then just a few minutes later, the top line struck again as Arjun Atwal fired home his second of the game.
There are going to be games where your goaltending bails you out. There are going to be games where you get goals from all four forward lines and your depth pushes you to victory. There are going to be games like tonight’s where you need your top line to carry you. Good teams win games when they’re playing their best. Great teams find ways to win even when it’s not their best night.
It wasn’t pretty at times, but their stars were their stars and the Crusaders found a way to get the two points and improve to 4-0.
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- They got off to a blazing start, which is always great to see. It turns out that they really needed that good start but regardless, they’ve shown flashes throughout the year that they’re the elite team that most expect them to be. Tonight was no different.
- There are going to be plenty of nights where the top line of Zapernick-Atwal-Savoie take over games and I will never get tired of watching it. Those three were tremendous tonight, combining for 11 points.
- Michael Benning was really standing out early in the game. I thought he and his partner Reid Irwin controlled the pace of the game when they were out there and made some very savvy plays.
- Once they extended their lead in the third, they did not let up. It was nice to see them lock things down.
- Jordan Frey looked solid in relief. He was vocal between the pipes as well, which is something I like to see (or hear I guess).
- You just can’t fall asleep for stretches like they did tonight. Credit to Whitecourt for pushing back and grinding the way they did, but the Crusaders needed a big stop or a big momentum changing shift and they didn’t get it.
- Powerplay wasn’t great tonight and it hasn’t been too good all season. They could have used a big goal with the man advantage when they got the chance in the second period.
- Carter Gylander didn’t have a training camp and went to Russia but didn’t play a single game. That’s rough on a goalie and I think you can tell he’s a step behind where he was last season. He’ll figure it out though, just a matter of time. A goalie that talented often bounces back in a big way.
The Crusaders are back on home ice tomorrow night to take on the Fort MacMurray Oil Barons. Nothing confirmed, but I expect that there will be another new face in the lineup as the team announced earlier tonight that they’re bringing in former Edmonton Oil King Davis Murray. He should be an impact forward. Puck drop tomorrow night is set for just after 7 at the SPA. I’ll have your Cru Wrap!