Crusaders 7 Thunder 4
The Drayton Valley Thunder were in town to kick off the 2017/18 AJHL season. The Crusaders took last seasons series winning four games out of six.
This young Crusaders lineup was hoping to put the doubters to rest and get off to a solid start to the season.
The Crusaders got their season off to a quality start dominating the opening five minutes. Kole Bryks set the tone to the game in opening 10 seconds with a huge hit on a Thunder forward. Brandon Wallis got the Cru’s first big chance of the game after Brendan Kallis sent him a breakaway. The Crusaders were awarded a power play early when Ryan McKinnon drew a cross-checking penalty. Nothing came from the odd man advantage; the Crusaders passing did look impressive though.
The Sherwood Park Arena erupted 10 minutes in when Merritt Oszytko tucked home the Crusaders first goal of the season. Fans did not even have to sit down before Ty Readman had them all on their feet again, 40 seoconds later: 2-0 Crusaders. An absolutely dominant minute for the Cru.
Even with a 2-0 lead, the Crusaders continued to put pressure on the Thunder in an attempt to extend their lead. Their third goal came on the power play. Rookie, Tyler Pang patiently waited for an opening then sniped one right over the shoulder of the Thunder netminder. Easily the best goal of the period.
Drayton Valley did get one back late. A point shot from Richards was originally stopped by Brandon Vogel but the rebound fell to Levi Johnson who tucked it home: 3-1 Crusaders.
The shot count heading into the intermission was 17 to 10 in favour of the Crusaders.
What an unbelievable period by the Crusaders. They really put on a show for their fans.
Just like the first, the home team came out strong with both Dylan Stewart and Garrett Clegg having great opportunities.
Shortly after, Chase Anderson sent Ashton Casault on a breakaway and he made no mistake; slotting it right between the Thunder goaltenders leg. Casault had a couple chances leading up to this point but could not capitalize. Great to see him get on the board.
Taking a look on the defensive side, Pang was handling the puck on the Drayton Valley blue line but lost control, leading to a Thunder breakaway. Assistant Captain, Ryan McKinnon showed fans why he was given that role hustling back hard to break up the play. Even with such a good lead, it was good to see the effort shown by McKinnon.
The goals kept coming for the Crusaders, Garrett Clegg smashed one into the top left corner of the Thunder goal. That goal also marked the end of Thunder goaltender Joseph McLeod’s night.
Tempers began to flare after the Thunder shot the puck at Vogel once the whistle had already gone. Following that, Stewart and his linemates were involved in a scrum which ultimately resulted in five players being sent to the penalty box.
Once the penalties were handed out, the Crusaders found themselves on the power play where they made the Thunder pay. Ty Readman feed a cross-ice pass through multiple sticks to find a wide-open Merritt Oszytko, who finished off the job: 6-1 Crusaders.
At that point, the young inexperienced Crusaders assumed the game was over; they were wrong. Drayton Valley clawed themselves back into the game late in the second with two goals.
The score heading into the second intermission had the Crusaders leading 6 to 3.
The Crusaders could not find their offense in the third period. They were having an unbelievable amount of shots; none of which were good scoring opportunities.
Brandon Vogel was forced into action much more and stood his ground for the most part. That was until the Thunder banged in their fourth goal of the game.
The final moments of the period were unsettling. With what looked like an easy win for the Crusaders turned out to be not so easy after all.
The would eventually close out the game with an empty-net goal from Tyler Pang.
Overall, for a team that was put together over the summer, the Crusaders should be happy with what they did here tonight. They are a young team and you could see that at times. However, they gave themselves an early lead which allowed them to make the mistakes they did.
The veterans on the team really lead by example at both ends of the ice. The line of Readman-Oszytko-Wallis was dominant offensively and got the Crusaders off to a great start. The second line of Stewart-McKinnon-Zapernick were also very noticeable on the defensive end and were put out there for the final few moments. It was disappointing not to see any of them score tonight, they deserved too. It was also great to see Ashton Casault get a goal tonight. He has been working hard on his game all summer and it’s nice to see the payoff.
Defensively, Kole Bryks played a great physical game giving out a hit whenever he could. Brendan Kallis gave a great captains performance, solid at both ends of the ice.
It was clear that the Crusaders played a weak opponent tonight. The way they were playing in the first period and a half was great. If they play like that against stronger teams in the North they will compete. However, their performance in the second half of the game was sloppy. The Thunder made them pay for their mistakes; fortunately they were still able to walk away with a win. A stronger team would have capitalized.
This team has got a long way to go, however, once they iron out the creases they will be a competitive team in the North Division.
The Cru head to Drayton Valley tomorrow with the puck dropping at 7 pm.