There are fewer things better than a season opener. Every team is optimistic about the season ahead. Everyone starts with the same record. For the Sherwood Park Crusaders, they’re hoping this is the start of a historic season. Expectations are high around the club and walking into the Sherwood Park Arena tonight; you could feel the buzz.
Here’s how things went down on night one of the AJHL season:
Weird things happen early in the season in a lot of leagues. The AJHL is no exception. Nevermind the first period, but the first five minutes alone had a little bit of everything. Right off the bat, Reid Irwin had trouble corralling a bouncing puck at the blueline, and it led to a quick breakaway for the Bobcats that was promptly turned aside by Carter Gylander. He was forced to turn aside three quality chances within the first five minutes.
The Crusaders would get on the board first as Brett Wieschorster buried the team’s first goal of the season. The lead was short-lived as just two minutes later, the Bobcats took advantage of some sloppy neutral zone play by the Crusader and tied the game at one. Only 30 seconds later, the visitors took the lead as former Crusader Cam Aucoin fired one short side over the shoulder of Carter Gylander.
The Crusaders got the benefit of three powerplays in the opening frame, and they took advantage. For those who have read these blogs for the past three years, you’ll probably know what I’m about to say, but I’ll repeat it for the newcomers: offhand your powerplay doesn’t need to score goals to be effective. It sounds weird, but if you can go generate good pressure and get some positive momentum out of it, then it can be considered a success.
Sherwood Park did a good job of generating chances with both their first and second powerplay units (I also noticed a third combination of players at some point as well), and they got rewarded as newcomer Jarred White fired a shot that eventually found the back of the net.
If I’m honest, neither team played a great opening frame. You could tell it was the first period of the season. The Bobcats would walk back to the locker room with a 3-2 lead thanks to a late first-period goal.
Do you like goals? Because this game, and the second period, in particular, featured a lot of them.
The Cru got this game tied up just before the ten-minute mark when Carter Savoie jumped on a loose puck, notching the first goal of his NHL draft year. Up next, it was Nicholas Magis who scored his first career AJHL goal, which is always nice to see. As they did in the first period, the Bobcats were able to respond in a rather quick fashion, evening things up at four with a Chad McLean goal. Of the four Lloydminster goal scorers, three of the scorers had first names that started with ‘C’. Mark that down as your ‘Useless Stat of The Night’.
In the final 90 seconds of the period, the Crusaders put their pedal to the floor and managed to take a 6-4 lead with Will Zapernick and preseason superstar Connor Hart getting the goals (that’s seven in his last four games if you count the preseason games).
I don’t want to say that the Crusaders put it into ‘cru-se’ control in the third, but the period did not have the same intense feeling that the second period did. Again, it may just be that these guys don’t have their legs in mid-season form so naturally, they slowed down. Either way, the Crusaders played a pretty clean third period. Carter Gylander didn’t have to deal with too much, and Will Zapernick scored his second of the game (one of three AJHLers to have a multi-goal game tonight) which extended the lead to 7-4.
It looked like that’s how it was going to end, but with literally less than a second on the clock, the Bobcats fired a point shot that hit a couple of sticks and trickled home.
That’s where this one would end as the Crusaders overcame a rough first period and won their home opener by a score of 7-5.
- The Cru came out flying in the second period, and the first shift of that period really set the tone. The fourth line of Bryce Bader, Nicholas Magis, Zafir Rawji played a hard, physical shift. That line looked really good tonight, and they got rewarded with a big goal in the second period as well.
- Was nice to see a handful of different players get goals tonight. Every forward line had a player find the back of the net. Early in the year, it’s nice to see everyone get some confidence.
- While it wasn’t a perfect performance when the Crusaders cranked it up, they looked like the elite team they’re expected to be. The shot clock reflected that. The final read was 50-28 once the final buzzer went.
- They didn’t take their first penalty of the game until halfway through the third period.
- It feels great to be back in a rink! That’s it. That’s one of my positive notes. I’m just happy to be back.
- It’s the first game of the year, but this was honestly a pretty sloppy hockey game. Lots of mistakes in the neutral zone, lots of bounces pucks that couldn’t be settled down. It’s hardly a knock on either team, more of an observation. It’s early in the year, so it’s expected.
- They got bailed out by the goal post a few goal posts, and when you consider that this ended as a two-goal game, that’s not a great sign.
- A few too many odd-man rushes given up by the Cru. Gap control, making smart decisions at the offensive blueline and in the neutral zone were both problems.
The Crusaders will look to sweep their season-opening home and home series tomorrow night when they load up the bus and head to Lloydminster. The puck drops at 7:30 pm from the Centennial Civic Centre Arena.