Crusaders 2 – 5 Saints
A pair of North Division rivals faced off in the AJHL Pre-Showcase game tonight.
The Cru were looking to bounce back from an OT loss at the hands of the Whitecourt Wolverines while Spruce Grove was looking to keep their good start to the season going, they’re currently 3-1-0.
To say the Cru came out flat would almost be an understatement. They allowed Spruce Grove to establish a cycle early and often as the Saints dominated the majority of the opening frame.
To be blunt, most of the players in green and white appeared okay with just being passengers tonight. One exception to that was Garrett Clegg who laid out a thunderous hit in the neutral zone, then followed it up with the team’s first solid chance of the night when he just missed a breakaway chance.
They got into penalty trouble in the last half of the period which didn’t help either. They were able to kill off the first two minor penalties, in large part due to some outstanding saves from Sam Burford, but Spruce Grove extended their lead to 2-0 on a delayed called with just over a minute to go.
After 20, the Saints ended up outshooting the Cru by a whopping 20-7 and held a 2-0 lead over the home team.
I’m not sure what Adam Manah said during the intermission, but it worked. The Cru came out with a much better effort and cut the lead in half just 34 seconds. A great feed from Brandon Wallis to find Tyler Pang who slipped the puck around Nolan Kent with a nice toe drag before sliding it home. A nice move from the d-man.
Sam Burford continued his solid play, but he didn’t get much help. After making two solid saves, the Saints were able to slam one home from behind the net once again extending their lead to two.
The back and forth play continued and the Cru struck next. Ty Readman scooped up a loose puck at the blueline before sliding one to Merritt Oszytko who just squeeeeeked (added emphasis) home a backhand.
The frustrating part tonight was just when it looks like the Cru are grabbing back momentum, the Saints put another one on the board. A prime example of this came late when Merritt Oszytko looked like he was about to tie the game, but had the puck roll off his stick, next thing you know the play goes back the other way and the Saints capitalized on some absolutely horrendous defensive play.
The Saints made it 5-2 with another late marker and kept that three-goal lead heading into the room.
While the Saints dominated for a few shifts, I thought the Cru were able to keep up their solid play in the final frame. They got rewarded with a powerplay which didn’t score a goal but got some nice chances.
Sam Burford kept up his solid play, making a couple jaw-dropping saves that kept the deficit at just three goals. At the beginning of the year, I thought the #1 spot was Brandon Vogels for sure, but Burford is turning this into a bit of a goaltending controversy, which is great news for the Cru.
Despite a good finish from Sherwood Park, they simply couldn’t muster up enough to beat a very good Spruce Grove team. Not only did the Saints out-shot the Cru 45-25, they dominated the possession battle. The CORSI% finished at 57% for the Saints and 43% for the Cru.
A tough loss for the Cru, but it should be a good lesson for a young team as it showed how a slow start can really kill your chances. If you take out the first period, this was a one-goal game.
Let’s wrap this one up:
- Those new Saints jerseys are slick! Might be the best-looking set in the AJHL.
- Garrett Clegg was doing his best to generate some momentum. A few nice hits, some quality scoring chances. I liked what I saw from the 17-year-old forward.
- Ben McLeod notched an assist in his first game back. I chatted with him earlier in the day and he said he was looking to up his offensive numbers this year.
- Will Zapernick was buzzing tonight. He skates really well and I noticed him a handful of times tonight.
- Another game where Sam Burford made some really nice saves but couldn’t get much help. He did get beat on a weak shot late in the second period, but when he faces as many shots as he did, I don’t blame him for the one weak one.
- The penalty kill was good tonight going 3/3. Sam Burford made some nice saves, but Ashton Casault and Brendan Kallis were both solid 5v4.
- 16-year-old Jacob Franczak was very good tonight. He plays a fearless game and seems like he’s always busting his ass. He drew a penalty late in third as well. That type of play usually doesn’t get a lot of praise, but doing it night after night during the entire season is invaluable to a team.
- They were good in the faceoff dot, finishing at 54%.
- Their PK didn’t allow a goal, but man, just going down a man kills any momentum. The team has to do a better job staying out of the box.
- The team started very slow. When you’re playing one of the best teams in the division and a rival on home ice, there’s no reason to come out as flat as they did.
- A big turning point in this one was Ashton Casaults boarding minor. The team looked like they were heading to a powerplay but Casault made a bonehead play running a Saints defender from behind. He killed a chance for the Cru to get back into this game and is lucky he didn’t get a major.
- They got picked apart by Chris Van Os-Shaw who was a dominant offensive force all night.
- They got burnt a few times of some awful gap control by their D. The most costly was during a 3 on 2 that turned into a 2 on 1 which led to the Saints extending their lead back to two.
- Their defense was doing a good job getting shots through in the offensive end, but the forwards weren’t going to the net enough. With an elite goalie like Nolan Kent between the pipes, the only way to beat him is to create chaos in his crease. They didn’t get that done tonight.
- Hey, powerplay… SHOOOOOOTTT!
The Cru will be looking to avoid a fourth straight loss when they head to Camrose for the AJHL showcase game. Puck drop between them and the Canmore Eagles (2-4-0) will go at 7 pm!
Stats courtesy of Connor Nichol