CRUSADERS 2 SAINTS 5
The Spruce Grove Saints were in town as the Crusaders hosted their first preseason game of the year. The Saints took last years regular season series, winning 4 of the 6 meetings between the North Division rivals.
Despite it still being early in the pre-season, the Cru dressed a healthy amount of veteran players. The likely top line of Merrit Oszytko, Ty Readman and Garret Clegg were all dressed along with returning forwards Eric Blanchette, Brandon Wallis, Graham Blanchette and Ashton Casault.
Fans also got looks at some of the newly acquired pieces in Brendan Kallis, Tyler Pang, Kole Bryks and Dylan Stewart.
The game was flowing pretty well of the start, the Saints hit a post early on but apart from that, the puck was flying from end to end pretty consistently. Ryan McKinnon really stood out with a couple flashy moves, but they resulted in empty chances. The ’97 forward spent part of last season with the Saints, scoring 23 points in 40 games.
Brendan Kallis came as advertised tonight, good physical play and apart from a few wobbly passes, had a real solid opening frame. Graham Blanchette was at both ends as well, breaking up a couple of plays.
The best chance came later on in the period when Garrett Clegg cut around a Saints defender and tucked a backhander right off the bar. Clegg, wearing #21, proved once again that he’s more than capable of keeping up with the Cru’s dynamic duo of Readman and Oszytko.
Despite the shots being 9-5 in favour of the Saints, the Crusaders put up more quality chances. They could have easily been up by a pair with a couple of bounces, but regardless, the two teams were scoreless heading back into the room.
Penalty trouble hit the Cru early on as they quickly went down two men right off the bat and before you could blink, the Saints made them pay. A point shot that looked like it may have tipped off the stick of Brendan Kallis.
The Cru were able to battle back even the game when Garrett Clegg tipped home the Josh Kroon point shot. Clegg was all over the offensive zone tonight, he should look like a real impact player this season.
I’m not sure if it’s the preseason blues and players simply couldn’t put together a full twenty minutes, but the Cru completely died off towards the end of the period. Not only did they end up trailing in shots 31-12, but they gave up two more and trailed 3-1.
Nick Leyer tucked his second of the game when he stepped out of the box and threw a wrister low on Sam Burford. Leyer gave them fits all night, he was the Saints best player tonight.
Tyler Pang tucked his first of the preseason when he threw one home. Still some rust in his game, but man does this kid ever have raw talent. When he finds his way in this league, you’ll be talking about him as a premier offensive d-man.
The Cru continued to put the pressure on late though, putting up a handful of grade A scoring chances. Garrett Clegg picked up a gorgeous cross crease pass and got absolutely robbed. Blanchette had a solid look, as did Dylan Stewart. They just couldn’t get bounces to fall their way.
An inability to put together a full twenty minutes really cost Sherwood Park tonight. They could keep up with the Saints for good chunk of this game, but a couple of lulls late in the 2nd and early in the 3rd proved to be too much to overcome.
Good performances from Graham Blanchette and Garrett Clegg, who both looked to be firing at 100%. Tyler Pang and Brenden Kallis had some rough moments, but if/when these two click, they should be a good top pair.
Some positive signs, but also a few areas where you can see this team is lacking. I think they need one more solid depth winger and one more top four d-man if they want to compete. Apart from that, I honestly believe they aren’t far away.
The Cru head to Spruce Grove to continue their exhibition season. The real season will next next Friday, when Drayton Valley comes to town.