The playoffs are finally here! After a record-setting season that saw the Cru win the most games in franchise history and win their division for the first time in 14 years, they kicked off the postseason Friday night after a first-round bye. With three players finishing in the top-10 in scoring in the AJHL (Carter Savoie, Garrett Clegg and Arjun Atwal) the Cru set themselves up for a run at the teams the first championship in franchise history.
Coming into the Sherwood Park Arena was a Fort McMurray Oil Barons team that defeated the Grande Prairie Storm three games to one in the first round. The first round was a close one for the Barons with all but one game finishing with a two-goal differential or less. The Crusaders took the season series with the Barons 4-2 with one game ending in OT and one in the shootout.
Matt Berlin got the start in Game 1 for the Cru while Chris Curr got the nod for Fort McMurray. All things pointed to a hard-fought and close series in the second round with a full crowd in Sherwood Park on Friday night.
Here’s how it went down!
The first period opened like you would expect a playoff game to start, fast and full of energy. Both teams played a physical game while Fort McMurray showed a lot of choppiness early on. The Cru would strike first off a Barons turnover at their own blue line. Garrett Clegg stole the puck and took off on a rush down the middle of the ice, sniping one through the arm of Curr for the 1-0 lead.
The Cru controlled most of the first period out-shooting the Barons 8-2 through the first 10 minutes of play with scoring chances left and right. Clegg had another scoring chance on a breakaway but was stopped with a spectacular save by Curr before Brandon Wallis had an opportunity of his on a breakaway with Curr making the lightning-fast glove save. The Cru could have easily scored three or more goals in the first period if it wasn’t for Curr standing on his head.
Penalties showed up often in the first period with five total between both teams. The period ended with Reid Irwin taking a two-minute penalty for slashing and Ryan Conroy a double-minor for spearing giving the Cru the man-advantage early in the second.
The penalties continued early into the second. The Barons took a slashing penalty as the period opened giving the Cru a two-man advantage, which unfortunately did not lead to a goal. The Barons had a great short-handed scoring chance on a breakaway but Matt Berlin came up big, shutting the door and holding the 1-0 lead for the Cru.
Things started to heat up again midway through the period with a scrum in the corner and Michael Bentz jumping in to defend his teammates. It led to off-setting minors but Bentz got his bench, and the Sherwood Park crowd fired up as he skated to the penalty box. The Barons also took a cross-checking penalty on the play putting the Cru on the power play.
This time they were able to capitalize with Arjun Atwal one-timing a pass from Carter Savoie past the Fort McMurray goaltender and into the back of the net for the PP goal and 2-0 Cru lead. A few minutes later it appeared as though the Cru scored the third goal but it was waived off and after further discussion confirmed not a goal retaining the score at 2-0 heading into the third period.
The third period was more efficient hockey with fewer whistles. The Cru would add to their lead halfway through the period with Tanner Fincaryk taking a pass in the slot and sniping it home past Curr pushing the lead out to 3-0. Just over four minutes later the Cru would put the game to rest with Brett Wieschorster picking off a pass in the slot and throwing it on the net. Cameron Aucoin cleaned up the rebound banging home the fourth goal of the game for the Cru.
Sherwood Park held their ground through the rest of the third period limiting Fort McMurray’s chances and despite the game getting chippier as it wound down they held on for the 4-0 win. Matt Berlin stopped 34 shots for his first career playoff shutout with the Cru taking a 1-0 lead in the series heading into Game 2.
- The Cru displayed a high level of energy and a fast tempo through the entirety of the game. Slowing down in the second period has been a bit of an issue for them this year, and they showed no sign of that in their first playoff game of 2019.
- Matt Berlin. I feel like he may get overlooked a bit with how well the team played and controlled the game, but he faced a tonne of shots and turned away every single one. He was the rock for the Cru in this one.
- A great PK. The Cru took a total of seven penalties and not one resulted in a goal for Fort McMurray.
- The Cru controlled the pace of the game from start to finish. It never felt at any point like they weren’t going to find a way to come out on top. That can be a scary thing to go up against in the playoffs.
- Not much to be upset with over this game so here’s the obvious one. Penalties. The Cru took too many and at times played into the Barons’ physical game but not enough that it hurt them. A more disciplined game will be required deeper into the playoffs.
Garrett Clegg and Arjun Atwal look to continue their scoring tear as the Cru look to take a 2-0 series lead when they play Game 2 on Saturday night from the Sherwood Park Arena. Puck drop is at 7 pm.