Looking to win their fourth consecutive game, the Sherwood Park Crusaders played host to a Whitecourt Wolverines team that is currently in a pretty vulnerable state, to say the least. Earlier this morning, the Whitecourt Wolverines officially relieved Head Coach, GM, and VP of Hockey Operations Gord Thibodeau of his duties. He was in his third year with the organization and has spent 25 years in the AJHL. He’s also the leagues all-time winningest Head Coach.
No doubt it’s a change to the culture for the Wolverines and today was the start of a new era.
On top of that, the team was also dressing five affiliate players including their starting goalie Ryley Osland. That’s a tough situation to be in for any game, nevermind when you’re heading on the road to play one of the leagues best home teams (the Crusaders sit second in wins on home ice).
Despite everything that was against them, I actually felt as though the Wolverines had a good effort tonight, even though it resulted in a loss. Here’s how things went down:
With all due respect to Whitecourt, this game got off to a pretty predictable start. It took the Cru less than two minutes to get on the board thanks to a gorgeous goal from Arjun Atwal. They would tack on two more with Carter Savoie getting credit for a Wolverines own goal and Michael Benning firing home his fourth goal in four games.
The Crusaders third goal of the period would also be the final shot that affiliate goaltender Ryley Osland would face as he was pulled for Tye Morin.
While there’s no doubt the Cru were the better team in the opening frame, I was impressed with Whitecourt’s fight level. They could have crumbled after going down 3-0 in the first ten minutes, but they ended up getting a few nice looks in the opening frame. Out of their affiliates, I was impressed with Cole Carrier. The Strathcona product looked very confident in just his fourth AJHL game.
The middle frame was a little bit closer than the first. While the Crusaders still dominated when it came to puck possession, the Wolverines were able to keep the shot clock rather close. By the end of the frame, they were even at 23.
The Cru grabbed a quick goal to go up 4-0. The first was a product of some great puck movement on the powerplay which was finished off with a rocket of a shot from rookie sensation Carter Savoie, his second of the game and 29th on the season.
Whitecourt would finally beat Carter Gylander with a powerplay marker at 17:16 on the period. Gylander didn’t face too many high-quality chances, but he stood tall when necessary. Without a couple of key saves, the Crusaders could have let the Wolverines right back into this one.
The final period was exactly what I was expecting from this one. The Wolverines looked exhausted and the Crusaders were just trying to make a clean exit, which they more or less did.
The home side would extend their lead to 5-1 when William Zapernick finished off a shorthanded two-on-one with a gorgeous forehand-backhand move. The four-goal lead was rather shortlived as Hayden Clayton rifled a shot over the glove hand of Gylander.
The Cru would tack on one more powerplay marker and walk away with a 6-2 victory, extending their current win streak to four.
- Their powerplay was excellent tonight. They scored three times and even on the few attempts where they didn’t score, they were snapping the puck around really well. Didn’t matter if it was the first or second unit out there, I was happy with the effort and execution.
- Carter Gylander looked good once again. His combination of size and athleticism is rare and tonight he used both to show why he’ll be hearing his name called at some point in the 2019 NHL Draft.
- Arjun Atwal was buzzing tonight. He went through a brief slump in early January, but I feel he’s really elevated his game as of late and tonight was no exception. He pulled off a nifty toe drag and scored a gorgeous goal in the first and followed it up with four or five ‘Grade A’ scoring chances throughout the game.
- The teams rookie duo was dynamic once again tonight. Carter Savoie grabbed his sixth multi-goal game of the season and Michael Benning registered three points in a game for the fifth time this season.
- They gave Whitecourt a few too many chances on the powerplay, but they did a good job killing off all but one of them, so hard to knock them for that.
- The shot clock would suggest that the Crusaders allowed Whitecourt to stay around in this game for too long, but honestly, this is a tough win to critique. I’ve covered the team for three years and I don’t remember a game where it was this difficult to find something to put in ‘The Downs’. Tonight was honestly a near perfect effort from the Cru.
The Cru will look to win their fourth in a row tomorrow night when they head to Bonnyville for their biggest game of the regular season. Their sixth and final game against the Pontiacs will go a long way in deciding who ends up getting the top spot in the North Division at years end. Puck drop goes just after 7 pm and you can watch this one live at AJ’s Sports Bar in Sherwood Park.