It was a historic campaign for the Sherwood Park Crusaders as they matched their franchise record for wins in a season with 44. On top of that, there were plenty of great individual efforts and big moves off the ice. From the second training camp opened to the moment the buzzer sounded last Saturday night, there truly never was a dull moment this year.
The regular season was so good that I decided it was worth reliving. Here is my recap of 2018-19 Sherwood Park Crusaders Regular season:
SEPTEMBER – RECORD: 3-2-2
Considering how successful the year was, it’s pretty crazy that they kicked things off with a pair of losses to the Drayton Valley Thunder. At the same time, the team that lost the first two games of the year was incredibly different than the team that finished the year.
In the days after starting the season 0-2-0, the team added Tyler Jette and Matt Berlin to their lineup. Jette would go on to be named Captain and was arguably be there most reliable defenseman, while Berlin would step in and become the team’s number one goalie.
On top of that, they added defensive defenseman Jayden Platz from the Edmonton Oil Kings, acquired Tyson Scott and Brett Wieschorster from the Drumheller Dragons, and got forward Garrett Clegg back from the USHL. Clegg made his presence known early, scoring the game-winning goal in his first game back with the Cru.
While plenty of new faces rolled in, it was a familiar one who starred on the ice. Arjun Atwal grabbed 12 points in the first eight games of the year and was named the teams Player of The Month.
On the ice, their record wasn’t fantastic, but the moves Kyle Chase made during the first month of the season proved to be crucial in turning the Crusaders into one of the AJHL’s best teams.
OCTOBER – RECORD: 10-1-0
In October, we saw the Cru put together their first lengthy streak of the season, winning their first seven games of the month and it all started with an 8-0 stomping of the same Thunder team that beat them twice to start the season. Kind of symbolic when you think about it.
They weren’t just winning games; they were dominating them. In their seven-game winning streak, they outscored their opposition 39-14. Goaltending was key as well. In six of their ten wins during the month, they allowed two or fewer goals.
We also saw Carter Savoie make a statement to the AJHL. The 16-year-old finished the month with a stat line of 11-7-18 and just straight up dominated through October. His jaw-dropping run was the start of a historic rookie season that ended with him finishing top five in league scoring.
The moves continued off the ice as well with Kyle Chase bringing in veteran forward Cody Laskosky from Camrose. Laskosky would bring a good defensive presence to the team while adding 11 points in 26 games with the Cru.
Their only loss came at the hands of the Spruce Grove Saints. One of the knocks on this team early in the season was their inability to beat the perceived “elite” teams in the league. That’s something the team got better at as the year went on, but I’ll get to that.
NOVEMBER – RECORD: 7-3-0
In November, the team suffered back-to-back losses for the first time since September, but all-in-all, it was a very successful month. This month saw the team show off their ability to persevere through adversity. They grabbed multiple comeback wins, one of which ended with a shootout victory over the Spruce Grove Saints.
For me, this is when they started to feel like a truly elite team and not just a good team capable of going on a hot streak.
Garrett Clegg was named the teams Player of The Month after scoring 7-8-15 in ten games. He was named star of the game four times as well. Clegg ended the year with the most goals on the team with 32 and finished tied for first in the AJHL in game winners with 11.
The team also made another pair of transactions, first bringing in Nick Bowman, who spent last season with the Edmonton Oil Kings. Bowman would end up with 34 points in 31 games with the Cru. They also acquired Jack Hamly from the Fort McMurray Oil Barons. Hamly scored 21 points in 33 games and gave the teams bottom-six another strong veteran forward.
DECEMBER – RECORD: 8-1-0
Another dominant month for the Cru was highlighted with their neutral site game in Vermillion where they scored seven goals. Counting their win in the last game of November, the team was able to extend their winning streak to nine games before losing their final game of 2018 to the Spruce Grove Saints.
While goaltending was grabbing the headlines earlier in the season, the offence was their strong point in December. They scored at least three goals in all nine contests.
Mike Benning grabbed Player of The Month honours after notching 14 assists in the month. December was his best offensive month, but his defensive game continued to grow as the year went on and that was equally as impressive as his natural offensive talent.
Carter Gylander was also named to the CJHL Top Prospects Game and just like he did all year in Sherwood Park, he shone. Gylander stopped 16/17 shots he faced in the game and his incredible rookie season got him ranked 12th among North American goalies eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft.
JANUARY – RECORD: 6-5-0
The calendar flipped, and some were worried if the Crusaders had left their dominant form back in the year 2018. The team struggled at points in January, including going 1-2-0 on a trip through the leagues South Division.
When I talked to multiple people around the team, whether it was management, players, or coaches, they all stressed that sometimes adversity is good for a team. It can both serve as a wake-up call to how difficult the AJHL is every night and bring a team together.
January also brought the AJHL’s Trade Deadline, and as expected, Kyle Chase was busy. He sent Cody Laskosky to Camrose and also brought in defenseman Reid Irwin and forward Zach Kaiser from Lloydminster.
While Irwin stabilized the blueline, Kaiser slid into the top six and immediately began producing. He ended the year as a point per game player with the Cru, with ten goals and nine assists.
FEBRUARY – RECORD: 8-2-0
The month of love saw the team get back to their winning ways and this stretch of hockey propelled them to their first division title since 2002/03.
The only negative was their 4-1 loss to the Bonnyville Pontiacs, but in the end, it didn’t matter. The Crusaders once again persevered through a tough loss and kept winning as they watched the Pontiacs crumble down the stretch, fumbling top spot in the division.
The positive headlines were seemingly endless. On top of the division title, Carter Savoie was named the league’s rookie of the year, Arjun Atwal wrapped up the Crusaders team MVP Award, and the team cemented their bye through the first round of the AJHL’s playoffs.
MARCH – RECORD: 2-0-0
This was my third season covering the team, and I can honestly say I’ve never seen a group this confident and I’ve never been around an organization that is this much fun. They’re winning games with a mixture of skill, hard work, and a little bit of swagger.
With a franchise record on the line, the team stepped up to the plate and delivered. They beat the Fort McMurray Oil Barons in overtime on Friday and silenced the Storm with a 5-1 win on Saturday night to secure their 44th win of the season.
Now, they wait.
The team has a first-round bye and will play the lowest seeded North Division team that advances through the first round of the AJHL’s playoffs. The team will be back on the ice a week from today, on Friday, March 16th as they get set to begin their run at the organization’s first AJHL Championship.