The Crusaders hit the ice again on Saturday night to finish off their first back to back homestand of the postseason. The team came up big last game in Sherwood Park Arena, finding a way to put four goals past the sensational Chris Curr; delivering a 4-0 victory on the backs of the team’s star players.
The Oil Barons lost the first game in their first-round playoff series against the Grande Praire Storm and still managed to come away with a 3-1 series win. So by no means is this time for the Crusaders to let up, as they are going to find themselves playing a motivated Oil Barons team that knows they are more than capable of coming back to win the series.
The Crusaders success is going to be riding on their ability to get pucks past Curr, which they were able to last night, but this is still a goaltender that has the talent to steal games on any given night. They also have to continue to keep the Oil Barons top players off the scoreboard. Reed Morison has now gone five playoff games without a goal, but the AJHL’s leading goal scorer in the regular season still possesses a dynamic skill set that can and will create dangerous scoring opportunities if left unaccounted for in the Crusaders defensive zone.
With that said, as long as the Crusaders top players continue to roll the Oil Barons are going to find themselves in a fight for their lives to take a win away from a group that is on a mission to become the most successful Crusaders team in Sherwood Park history.
Here’s how game two rolled out:
Ryan Conway was the first to find the back of the net. A rough shift for Michael Benning resulted in a turnover in front of the Crusader’s net and not being able to contain Conway from battling his way to the front of the crease on route to shoveling a backhand shot over the short side of Matt Berlin.
It was clear that the spirited battle has carried over from Friday nights game into the first period of tonight’s game, as heated scrums were ensuing after almost every whistle, and by the end of the period, the box score would see a total of 18 penalty minutes handed out between the two teams. A sign that fans are in for a rough game, and a rough series that should continue to escalate in physical play as more is laid out on the line for both clubs.
This appeared to be a game that was in the Oil Barons hands at the halfway point of the first period as the team was up by one goal and were outshooting the Crusaders 6-1. Along with pounding out a plethora of ‘grade A’ scoring chances from just inside the hash marks, all which were stopped at the hands of Matt Berlin.
Garrett Clegg started the surge back in momentum for the Cru; the Robert Morris University commit raced his way into a partial breakaway where he was stopped by the sprawling left pad of his former St.Albert Raiders Midget AAA teammate Chris Curr.
That chance was later followed with a goal by Jack Hamly, who fought his way through a net-front scrum to pounce on a loose puck that he managed to squeeze by Curr to tie the game up at 1-1.
The Crusaders were able to put a puck past Curr on a five on three opportunity late in the third, but the whistle had blown the play dead before the puck crossed the goal line. Bringing an end to the scoring in the first period that was dominated by the special team efforts of both teams.
The Crusaders climbed back up the shot clock to bring the shots totals to 11-10 in their favour, but the game remained tied up at 1-1 to start the second.
The 17-year-old phenom Carter Savoie made an effort to give the Crusaders a lead early on in the second frame, as he came flying down the right side of the ice and managed to grab his own rebound that he attempted to put over the blocker side of Curr. But the hard-fought chance was met by an acrobatic save to avoid the Oil Barons going down by one.
Former Vancouver Giants defencemen Ty Ettinger would then respond with a chance of his own for the Oil Barons as his shot from just inside the slot rang off the post and somehow stayed out, as the game continues to develop back-and-forth chances that aren’t able to be converted to goals on either end of the ice.
However, a turnover in the defensive zone by the Crusaders led to Chad Maclean getting a chance all alone with Matt Berlin where he made no mistake and was able to regain the Oil Barons lead at 2-1.
A bone-crushing hit by Brett Wieschorster caused Oil Barons forward Jesse Burchart to retaliate and put the Crusaders on the powerplay yet again late in the period, but the Crusaders came up short and remained down by one goal heading into the final frame.
The Crusaders finally found a way to convert on the powerplay early into the third as Clegg found a way to beat Curr and settle the score with his former Midget teammate to tie the game yet again after being robbed by him earlier in the third.
However, the Oil Barons came back with a powerplay goal of their own as Jaedon Leslie’s shot rang off the post and came right back out in front to Jarred White who slapped the puck into a wide-open net and gives the Oil Barons the lead… yet again.
The Crusaders would get another powerplay chance with just less than 9 minutes remaining in the game. While the team had the second best powerplay of the regular season, this is one of those powerplay opportunities that a team absolutely has to capitalize on — failing to convert on this PP while down by one threw away the Crusaders best opportunity to tie up the game with the limited time remaining.
After the powerplay, Brayden Hyland took a high sticking penalty with just 6 minutes left in the period. Putting the Crusaders down from having 6 minutes left to tie the game down to essentially only having 4 minutes left to tie the game after successfully killing off the Oil Barons powerplay. Even though Arjun Atwal came flying down the ice on a shorthanded rush that produced a rebound that came right out to Nick Bowman in front, but his chance was eaten up by the Oil Barons crest of Curr’s jersey.
Matt Berlin would leave the crease with just over a minute left to put six Crusaders players out on the ice for a late push to tie the game, but White would put an end to those hopes when he buried his second of the game on an empty net goal to cement the Oil Barons 4-2 win in game two of the playoff series.
- After having a rough go on the first goal against, I was really impressed with Bennings ability to quickly rebound and have a very strong rest of the game.
- Playing an older team, the Crusaders younger players not only held their own on the physical side of the game, but they were also some of the most physical players in the game and made it very clear that they will not be made targets by the Oil Barons. The 17-year-olds Savoie and Benning especially excelled in this area.
- Morison was held off the scoreboard yet again in game two of the series. Jacob Franczak was matched up with him on several occasions throughout the game and did a good job at taking away the Oil Barons best forward’s time and space.
- The Crusaders excelled on the powerplay all season long. But an opportunity with under 9 minutes left in the third period of a playoff game where the team is down by one, is a powerplay the team absolutely has to capitalize on. It let them down in the most critical time of the game, after only converting on 1 of their seven total powerplay opportunities of the night.
- On the flipside, taking an undisciplined penalty with just over 6 minutes remaining in a game the team is desperately trying to claw back in is something that just can’t happen, it’s a time of the game players have to watch their sticks and keep their cool.
- Two of the goals were results of defensive zone turnovers. No use is overthinking what happened but they are avoidable mistakes that the team and players have to learn from, forget about, and move on from.
The Crusaders look to gain the edge as they head to the Casman Centre in Fort McMurray for game three of a playoff series that is now knotted up at one game apiece.