The Sherwood Park Crusaders opened up their 2020/21 regular season with a trip to the Grant Fuhr Arena to take on the Spruce Grove Saints.
The two teams met only a couple of weeks ago which resulted in two Crusaders victories.
The first one came at the Sherwood Park Arena when Ty Mueller (University of Nebraska-Omaha) and Brett Ursulak scored in the third period to give the Sherwood Park a 7-4 victory over the Saints. The following night, a late goal from Dylan Guenther sent the game to overtime which was then finished off by Matthew Savoie making it 3-2.
That 3-2 loss was the last time, Spruce Grove played after their games against Fort McMurray last weekend were cancelled due to the weather. They were still missing New York Rangers prospect Matthew Rempe who is suspended for a hit he made on Matthew Shatsky in the game in Sherwood Park.
Sherwood Park, on the other hand, welcomed back Bryce Bader and Nick Bowman after they missed the final two exhibition games against Camrose. They replaced rookie forwards James Gibson and Nolan Wutzke – brother of former Crusaders defenceman Max Wutzke.
Between the pipes, Sherwood Park went with Winnipeg native Carson Cherepak while Spruce Grove stuck with Blake Lyda who got the start the last time they met.
It was a tight first period with each team getting their fair share of opportunities to open the scoring.
The first fell to Jayden Davis early, but he was turned aside by a kicked out pad from Carson Cherepak. It was the first shot for a few minutes in what was a tight opening five at the Grant Fuhr Arena.
Sherwood Park gained a little bit of momentum from the Nick Bowman line; however, that quickly came to an end after Dylan Guenther was called for tripping on Graham Gamache. Ty Ettinger lost his stick on the penalty kill which initially started out troubling for but quickly became beneficial after Adam Hall kicked the stick away from Ettinger resulting in an interference call.
Nothing came from the four on four or the 20-second powerplay for Sherwood Park.
Shortly after, Nick Magis looked to bring energy by laying a hit on the Saints defenceman. However, the officials sent him to the box for two-minutes for cross-checking putting Spruce Grove back on the powerplay.
The Saints were unable to capitalize on the powerplay, making them 0 for 3 at that point. Not long after, Graham Gamache was left wide open in front but was denied by a big stop from Cherepak.
The deadlock did eventually break when Kai Uchacz centred to Jayden Davis who tucked home his first of the year. Cherepak came close to puck it away with his stick, but it wasn’t enough.
Tensions began to rise after Saints rookie forward Sam Vincent decided to take an extra jab at the Cherepak which he soon learned was a bad idea after getting swarmed by the Crusaders. Bryce Bader and Ty Ettinger each received penalties along with Vincent and Jacob Rochford.
Sherwood Park best chance of the period came very late. With only seconds left, Liam Hughes found Cale Ashcroft in the slot from down low. Ashcroft was wide open with only Lyda to beat but couldn’t find the target and instead hit the outside of the post.
The second period was by far the Crusaders best 20 minutes of the night.
They managed to put some pressure on the Saints young blueline and got themselves some powerplay opportunities in the process. Head Coach Adam Manah adjusted his lines in the intermission which produced a spark.
Vincent Scott got in and underneath the Saints rookie defenceman Liam Watkins and drew a holding penalty. On the resulting powerplay, Ettinger found Dylan Guenther in the faceoff circle who did the rest. Guenther waited for his opportunity to pounce and put it through the five-hole of both Logan Acheson – who attempted to block – and Lyda to make it 1-1.
Spruce Grove responded well, especially Nick Leyer’s line who immediately put the Crusaders on the backfoot. Luckily for Sherwood Park, nothing came from it.
Bader had two really good chance to give the Crusaders a lead but couldn’t beat Lyda. He started on the third line with Nick Bowman and Vincent Scott which then added Ty Mueller replacing Bowman in the second. The Sherwood Park product did well throughout the exhibition season, and the Crusaders will be hoping he can get back into his scoring habits from midget hockey.
Watkins was caught under pressure again in the second and received another penalty. It was Tanner Fincaryk this time who took advantage of the young rookie. Sherwood Park looked dominate on the resulting powerplay getting numerous chances to head into the intermission with the lead. However, the Saints’ goal frame denied both Guenther and Savoie and instead the period ended tied at 1-1.
The momentum from the powerplay carried over to the start of the third for Sherwood Park. Bowman picked up the puck in the corner and centred it to Savoie who came so close to beating Lyda to give the Crusaders a 2-1 lead.
Following that chance, the game became much more open for a short stint with each team go back and forth with opportunities.
Spruce Grove were the ones who gained more confidence from that putting the pressure on Sherwood Park for the majority of the period. Carson Cherepak was forced into action fairly often but kept the score at 1-1.
Despite that spell from Spruce Grove, it was Sherwood Park who would score next. Matthew Savoie and Dylan Guenther played a little give and go which was finished off by Savoie for his first career AJHL goal. Those two were easily the best two offensive players for the Crusaders tonight.
The Saints didn’t stop though. They relentlessly fought back and eventually grabbed themselves a second goal. What seemed like a harmless shot from Lucas Ciona initially beat Cherepak on his glove side to pull the Saints right back into the game.
Then a couple of minutes later, Luigi Benincasa knocked down a flying puck into the pads of Cherepak and then was knocked in by Davis for his second of the game. There were shouts from the Crusaders for a high-stick, but the officials ultimately decided against reversing their call and allowed the goal to stand. It was hard to tell on the replay if the stick was too high so would’ve been tough for the officials to rule out in real-time.
That goal was scored with just over two minutes to play, BUT the drama wasn’t done yet.
With the extra attacker, Matthew Savoie received the puck on the blue line. He fired a wrist shot towards goal which was tipped in by Ty Mueller (University of Nebraska-Omaha) to give the Crusaders another late equalizer in the Spruce Grove.
Before the final buzzer sounded, the Saints had one more chance to end it in regulation.
Adam Hall drew the defenceman into him and then passed the puck to the back post to Shane LaVelle (University of Wisconsin) who was denied by a sprawling Cherepak in what was the save of the game.
The extra period only lasted 31 seconds after Graham Gamache fired home a juicy rebound from a Breck McKinley shot to give the Saints a 4-3 victory and two points.
These two teams will battle tomorrow night at the Sherwood Park Arena. Tickets for the game are no longer available, but fans can watch the game live at Average Joe’s Sports Bar in Sherwood Park.
Puck drops at 7:15 p.m.