After beating the Calgary Mustangs on Friday night, the Crusaders wrapped up their weekend homestand Saturday night with a matchup against the Grande Prairie Storm.
The Cru came into this game as winners of two of their last three and still sat atop the AJHL’s North Division with 62 points while the Storm had also won two of their last three but sat 20 points back of Sherwood Park in the standings.
These two teams have met three times already this season and it’s been all Crusaders in those games. Sherwood Park has won all three games, in regulation, outscoring the Storm 17-3 in those three games.
Grande Prairie was looking to flip that trend tonight.
After watching the first ten minutes of this game, it was clear that both these teams played last night. The legs were not there for either side. A side note: Storm defenseman Payton McIsaac was playing in his first game back in Sherwood Park since being traded last season. He was assessed a ten-minute misconduct during warmups for shooting a puck into the Crusaders net. I’ve never seen a penalty given for that before.
There weren’t very many good scoring chances early. The Crusaders best look came off the stick of Jack Hamly who grabbed a stretch pass and worked his way in on a partial break but couldn’t beat Storm goalie Lars Kaliel.
Each team got a powerplay in the opening frame as well and while neither scored, the Storm at least generated some momentum on theirs. They had the puck in the Crusaders zone for about 90 seconds of their two-minute advantage. Sherwood Park was flat during their only powerplay.
The Storm would get on the board with just over five minutes to go in the opening frame in large part thanks to Vincent Milot-Ouellet who seamed a back-door pass to Captain Connor Blake who pushed it past Matt Berlin.
After 20, the shot clock read 10-8 in favour of the home side, but it was the visitors who held a 1-0 lead.
Usually when both teams have a slow first period, like we saw tonight, at least one of them comes out firing after the first intermission. That really didn’t happen tonight. The first five minutes of the middle frame were just as slow as the opening frame.
The Crusaders would grab a pair of really good scoring chances thanks to some great individual rushed by Carter Savoie and Nick Bowman, but neither player could finish their respective breakaways.
The home side would eventually even things up and it was Mike Benning getting on the board. The defenseman, who was given his “Player of the Month”, finished off a nice feed from Jacob Franczak.
Grande Prairie would almost grab the lead back, but the goal posts were not their friends this evening. They hit two within a span of three minutes. That would be the turning point in this one as the Crusaders would bang home three more goals (Hyland, Wieschorster, Zapernick), and almost grabbed a fourth but it got waved off due to a crease violation, before the end of the frame and walk off the ice with a 4-1 lead.
It took an entire 88 seconds for the Crusaders to extend their lead. Nick Bowman would bang one home. He’s scored nine times in fourteen games since joining the Cru. If the 4-1 goal at the end of the second period didn’t seal up this game, then the early strike in the third definitely did.
There was no shortage of bad blood at the end of the second period and given the score, I was expecting that to carry over in the final period. I was proven correct. Lots of pushing and shoving after whistles and then it appeared Garrett Clegg had enough as he absolutely dropped a Storm player with a few vicious punches.
Views on the officiating tonight aside, the Crusaders got a little undisciplined halfway through the third as well and it cost them a goal. The Storm would add one while on a 5-on-3 to make it 5-2. The Sherwood Park penalty kill would survive another five minutes before Arjun Atwal fired home a shorthanded one-timer. Hopefully, that goal can spark the Crusaders forward out of his ‘mini-slump’.
Despite the gap on the scoreboard, these two teams continued to show their emotions on a regular basis. It seemed like every second whistle was either to break up a scrum or call a penalty.
While these two teams slugged it out, the clock would wind down and the Crusaders would walk away with their fourth victory over the Grande Prairie Storm this season. 6-2 the final. Here are some of my takeaways:
- Jacob Franczak is really finding his game in 2019. He has six points since the calendar flipped and his assist tonight was a beauty. He almost scored another one late in the second and also had a goal waved off due to a sketchy crease violation call. He was one of their best players tonight.
- Speaking of great stories, Brayden Hyland got the games second goal and while he was able to finish the playoff with some really silky hands in front of the net, he got the chance thanks to nothing but hard work. That guy works his tail off every single night. Quickly becoming one of my favourite players to watch.
- After looking flat on their first attempt of the night, the Crusader’s powerplay would strike late in the second period. A timely powerplay can be huge and their goal tonight was an absolute backbreaker.
- Nothing drives me crazier than a team coming out flat on home ice. No reason to not be flying every night in front of your home crowd. Took the Crusaders almost 30 minutes to wake up in this one.
- Sherwood Park got lucky with those two goal posts in the second period as well. The Storm could have easily grabbed ahold of this game.
The Cru will look to make it three in a row when they head up to Fort MacMurray on Tuesday night. They’ll take on an Oil Barons team that they’ve already beaten twice this season. No Cru Wrap for this one, but you can keep it locked on BTI for a new edition of Inside The Cru on Thursday afternoon!