Some of the most entertaining games on the entire AJHL schedule this season have been a product of a matchup between the Spruce Grove Saints and the Sherwood Park Crusaders. It shouldn’t come as a surprise either. The Saints are the defending AJHL Champions, as they reminded me earlier today on Twitter, while the Crusaders are better than they’ve been in years and currently sit atop the AJHL’s North Division.
As of late, the Crusaders have been almost unstoppable, winning seven in a row. The Saints meanwhile are just 2-3-1 in the month of December but make no mistake, they were hungry tonight as the puck dropped on the third meeting between these two cross-city rivals. Here’s how things played out:
There was a brief feeling out period to start this one, but the action really picked up when the Crusaders got their second power play of the game. Saints forward Matt Rempe picked up the puck in his own end and fired a clearing attempt towards Matt Berlin. I won’t even try to describe what happened, instead, I’ll let you watch:
— Tyler Yaremchuk (@tyleryaremchuk) December 20, 2018
The Crusaders would come back to tie up the game on that very same powerplay thanks to a Jack Hamly net-front deflection.
Sherwood Park would go on to kill a pair off a pair of Saints powerplays, in large part thanks to Matt Berlin who didn’t let a tough bounce on the first goal phase him. He also came up huge in the final minute of this period, robbing Nick Leyer on a partial breakaway to keep things tied at one.
Within the first two minutes of the period, Garrett Clegg got a good jump around a Saints defender and when Clegg gets a wide open look, he rarely misses. He made no mistake and quickly gave the home side a 2-1 lead.
The play would even out for a bit but whenever the Saints really pushed, Matt Berlin would step up and slam the door shut.
Don’t let the shot total fool you in the second period either. While the Crusaders only had eight shots in the middle frame, they peppered Matt Davis with ‘Grade A’ chance after ‘Grade A’ chance.
In a hockey game, there is rarely one moment that can be pointed to as a clear-cut turning point but with just over two minutes to go in the period, the Crusaders would get a five-on-three power play. A glorious chance to blow the doors off this game. With time dwindling down in the first penalty, a vicious Crusaders cycle would strike. Arjun Atwal worked it to Garrett Clegg who put in on a platter for Carter Savoie who rifled home his 20th goal of the season.
After forty, the scoreboard read 3-1 in favour of Sherwood Park.
There were brief moments throughout the first two periods where these two teams showed their hatred, but it was nothing too crazy. Things came a little unglued in the final frame. It was apparent that the Saints were not going to take this loss without putting up a physical fight.
After the Crusaders made it 4-1, thanks to some quick hands from rookie Zafir Rawji, the post-whistle shenanigans ramped up.
Dylan Burlai went over the line, throwing a dirty sucker punch after the whistle that got him a five-minute major and a game ejection. Cole Basnett also picked up a pair of ten-minute misconducts and was ejected from the game. In total, the Saints racked up 55 penalty minutes in the final frame while the Crusaders had just two.
Lots of goals for the home side, lots of bad blood in the third. Pretty much what you would have expected from a Saints vs Crusaders game. A highly entertaining bout sends both these teams into the Christmas Break on very different notes. The Saints have now dropped three straight while the Crusaders have now matched their point total from the 2017-18 season… and it’s only December. What a run.
FINAL SCORE: CRUSADERS 4 SAINTS 1
- Loved the mental strength of Matt Berlin in this one. After a terrible break on the first goal, he bounced back and was a difference maker. Stopping the other 29 shots he faced.
- While the big guns get a lot of credit for scoring the goals, there was a handful of Crusaders who made an impact on the defensive side of the puck. Cody Laskosky, Michael Bentz, and Kyle Fulton both made plays at different points that prevented a high-quality scoring chance for the Saints.
- The powerplay was excellent tonight. Not only did they score twice, but they hemmed the Saints in their own end with a fantastic cycle game.
- The Saints had plenty of chances to grab ahold of this game with their own powerplay as well, but the Crusaders PK was great. They got some strong saves from Matt Berlin, but Adam Manah’s system balances patience and aggression perfectly. The penalty killers were perfect tonight.
- Connor Hart looked really good when the team had him out on the powerplay. Both he and Zafir Rawji had what I think were their best games of the season.
- That first goal was a really tough bounce. Never want something like that happening in a big game like this.
- While I praise the penalty kill, they were probably used a little bit too much. Garrett Clegg made a poor decision in the second and took a penalty at a fairly big point in the game. Rivalry games get everyone fired up, but learning how to walk the line without going over is something this team fails to do sometimes. It didn’t bite them in the ass tonight though.
The Crusaders head into the Christmas Break on an eight-game winning streak. Quite the first half of the season for the Crusaders. I’m not sure even the most optimistic Crusaders fan could have seen this strong of a start. When the second half of the season begins on December 28th, the Crusaders will sit alone atop the AJHL’s North Division.
Until then, keep it locked on BTI for a brand new edition of Inside The Cru tomorrow and our writers Mid-Season Awards on Saturday.