For the first time this season, it’s fair to say that the Sherwood Park Crusaders are struggling. They’ve dropped three of their last four and have a record of 3-6-1 in their last ten games. While the wins aren’t coming, the competition has been tough for the Cru. They had to go on a four-game road trip that features three of the best teams in the league.
As Brayden Hyland told me earlier this week on my podcast ‘Inside The Cru’, sometimes a little adversity is a good thing.
Tonight, the Cru kicked off a weekend home-stand with a matchup against the Fort McMurray Oil Barons. Just like Sherwood Park, Fort McMurray was also looking to snap out of a losing skid; they had lost three straight heading into this one.
So far this season, these two teams have met four times, with the Crusaders coming out victorious in three of them. It was a large crowd at the Sherwood Park Arena with over 1000 people in attendance, and they were treated to a fantastic North Division battle. Here’s how it went down:
I thought the Crusaders came out strong tonight. They weren’t perfect, but at the same time, they brought a good amount of pressure. Arjun Atwal was cruising tonight as well. He generated three odd-man rushes but fired the puck over the net twice. He would draw a penalty on the third, but the Crusaders would fail to generate anything on the powerplay. The Cru would go 0/2 with the man advantage in the first.
The Oil Barons would strike first on a Reid Morrison breakaway goal. The Cru simply lost track of a guy who was streaking along their own blueline, and the stretch pass hopped over the stick of Michael Benning giving Morrison all the time in the world to snap one home.
They trailed 1-0 after 20 and I have a bittersweet outlook on the period. On the one hand, I thought they were the better team, but they didn’t take advantage of a Fort Mac team that looked sloppy at times.
The Oil Barons would jump off to a 2-0 lead in the second when the Cru forgot about Brayden Koch in front of the net and allowed him to chip a shot around Carter Gylander.
The home side brought a lot of pressure after that but just couldn’t find the back of the net. It was a mix of them not bearing down on their chances and Fort McMurray goalie Chris Curr being dialled in. He stopped every single one of the 24 shots he faced in the first 40 minutes.
The MOB would capitalize on yet another odd-man rush with just seconds remaining in the period, giving them a comfortable 3-0 lead heading into the second intermission.
The Crusaders were given a powerplay right off the bat in this period, and the optimistic side of me looked at this as an opportunity for them to make up for some early game struggles and get themselves back into the game. That did not happen as Fort Mac killed it off once again.
Sherwood Park would finally get on the scoreboard about seven minutes into the period as Jacob Franczak picked up a rebound in front and fired it home. The goal was scored with a delayed penalty coming to the Oil Barons, so it doesn’t officially count as a powerplay marker.
The Cru continued to just pour pucks on net, but Curr continued to turn them all aside. The constant pressure resulted in another powerplay for the home team, but they could only muster one shot attempt on the entire man advantage. The thing that killed their momentum with the powerplay tonight was their zone entries. Once Fort Mac cleared the puck once, the Cru could never re-establish a cycle.
Give the Oil Barons credit too; they played a near-perfect road game. They suffocated the Cru at times, they didn’t play a fancy style of hockey either instead just played a physical style of hockey and took advantage of their few opportunities. A really strong effort and while for long stretches the Cru looked like the better team, Fort McMurray deserved the win tonight.
- Honestly, the Crusaders were the better team for the majority of this game. There weren’t a lot of points where they got pinned in their own end. That’s a positive to take from this one.
- I want to give some love to Tyler Jette. He isn’t flashy, but he’s their best defenseman. He brings a steady presence to their blueline, and the calmness in his game allows him to eat big minutes. His impact will be felt more and more as we creep towards the playoffs.
- Four NHL scouts were in attendance tonight, assuming they were all watching Carter Gylander who was ranked 12 among North American goalies in Central Scouting mid-season rankings. He played good tonight. You can’t expect him to stop every odd-man rush he faces.
- The Crusader’s powerplay continues to frustrate me. They’ll have games where they look absolutely dynamite and can seemingly score at will and then they’ll go through stretches where they seem like they don’t have a clue. Tonight was the latter. They struggle to generate anything and simply couldn’t use their powerplay to gain momentum. You don’t always have to score, but you need to generate something.
- Generating chances is one thing, but finishing them off is an art in itself. The MOB capitalized on their odd-man rushes (scoring on two), and the Cru didn’t (missing on more than five).
- Arjun Atwal is just straight up snake bit right now. He’s generating more chances than anyone, but he just can’t find the back of the net. When he gets one, I think it will spark a flood of goals.
The Cru take to the ice at the Sherwood Park arena less than 24 hours from now as they cap off their home doubleheader with a game against the