The two hottest teams in the AJHL’s North Division went head-to-head tonight at the Sherwood Park Arena as the Crusaders played host to the Bonnyville Pontiacs with both teams riding five-game winning streaks. The Pontiacs have been powered by their red-hot offence which has scored 31 goals over the course of their winning streak. For the Crusaders, they’ve been doing an excellent job keeping pucks out of their own net with a GAA of 2.00 in their last five games.
Only one win streak would survive tonight though as these two teams battled it out on Saturday night.
The Crusaders dominated the early portion of the game. They got a powerplay opportunity pretty early in the frame, and while they didn’t score, they generated some momentum that set the tone for the rest of the period. By the eight-minute mark of the opening period, the Crusaders were outshooting the Pontiacs 14-0.
It took over nine minutes for Bonnyville to get their first shot on goal, but they made it count. A quick rush resulted in a bit of a scramble in front of Carter Gylander, and the puck pinballed its way into the back of the net. Justin Stathopoulos was credited with the goal.
The Crusaders continued to pour it on after giving up the first goal of the game. They got two more powerplay goals and right at the end of the second man-advantage, they tied the game. Reid Irwin scooped up the puck at the point, fired a low wrister that deflected off a Pontiac’s defender and in.
The home side took little time adding another one as just 12 seconds later Nicholas Magis fired home his sixth of the season, allowing the Cru to head back into the locker room with a 2-1 lead.
The second period was really just more of the same. The Crusaders dominated the play and while the Pontiacs did get a couple of chances, and a look on the powerplay, Carter Gylander kept everything he faced out of the net.
While the Pontiacs did close the gap on the shot clock (26-16 by the end of the period) the Crusaders extended their lead where it matters most. Jarred White picked up his 23rd of the season, which ties him for 6th in the league, and gave he home side a 3-1 lead.
The Pontiacs made a strong push in the final minutes but weren’t able to cut the lead down before the second intermission.
The Pontiacs came out and were the better team early in the period. They were quick to loose pucks and actually started moving the puck around the offensive zone with a sense of purpose. The Crusaders got another look with the man-advantage but once again, came up empty-handed.
That allowed the Pontiacs to continue their frantic attack and just minutes after a successful penalty kill; they were able to cut their deficit in half when Bruce McGregor went bar down for his eighth goal as a Pontiac.
It was looking like the visitors were going to tie this game up when they got a powerplay opportunity at the halfway mark of the final frame. Still, a pair of nice saves by Carter Gylander kept the Cru up by one, and then a beautiful shorthanded goal (and a hell of a celebration) restored Sherwood Park’s two-goal lead.
Savoie would up the lead to 5-2 with one of the nicest goals I have ever seen live. He pulled off what seemed like an impossible toe-drag to get around one Pontiacs defender, kept the puck on his stick, edged out another defender, and chipped the puck over a sprawled out Easton Hesse. Just beautiful.
Matthew McKim added one late for the Pontiacs, but that was soon cancelled out after Jacob Franczak scored his seventh of the year.
The Cru would hold on from there, extending their win streak to six games while simultaneously ending the Pontiacs run of consecutive victories. 6-3 the final from the Sherwood Park Arena.
- I loved the start from the Crusaders. They fired 14 shots at Easton Hesse before Carter Gylander was forced to make a save. They got good looks and lots of zone time. It didn’t result in a goal, but, it really set the tone for the rest of the game.
- I really liked what I saw from Brennan McDonnell tonight. He made some nice defensive plays and added a pair of assists in the first period. He had a great shot chance in the second period but just fired it wide of the net.
- Part of what makes the Crusaders dangerous is that all four lines can beat you. That was apparent in the first when they scored two goals in 12 seconds. You can’t sleep at all with this team. There’s never an easy shift.
- Star players come through when you need them most. Carter Savoie was having a pretty quiet game until the final ten minutes of the game. In a way, he put the team on his back, scoring a shorthanded goal and following it up with a beautiful insurance marker that you need to find the replay of. Great finish to the game by #8.
- They weren’t very efficient on the powerplay. For the amount of skill they have, you’d like to see them find the back of the net or at least generate dangerous chances more often than they do. They get lots of zone time but don’t get a lot of grade ‘A’ looks. They had a chance to put the game out of reach early in the third, and their powerplay couldn’t get it done.
- The Crusaders almost let the Pontiacs creep back into this game in the first few minutes of the third period.
One more game before the Christmas break for Sherwood Park as the team will load up the bus and head to Lloydminster tomorrow for an afternoon tilt against the Bobcats. Puck drop goes just after 2:00 p.m. from the Centennial Civic Centre Arena.