For the first time this season, the Crusaders hit the ice at the Sherwood Park Arena for some pre-season hockey. The opposition this afternoon was the Olds Grizzlies, who were coming off a preseason win over the Calgary Canucks just a few days ago.
This one was all Cru through the first period. Already up 1-0, they extended their lead thanks to a gorgeous feed by Zafir Rawji and a quick snapshot by Carter Savoie. The teams would exchange powerplays about halfway through the period and then with just under five minutes to go in the frame, on their second power play of the period, Kyle Fulton gave the home side a 3-0 lead.
There were a couple slip-ups by the Cru, and a few shaky moments from starting goaltender Carter Gylander, but I was very impressed with the opening frame.
While the Crusaders controlled the play for the majority of the second period, Olds was able to make it a one-goal game before the middle frame ended. Not much I can knock the Cru for here, they limited shots and prevented Olds from getting a lot of ‘Grade A’ chances, but the Grizzlies made their few chances count.
Heading into the third, things were 3-2 for the home side.
The Grizzlies came out hungry in the final frame, and actually managed to beat Carter Gylander twice, but couldn’t tie the game. After one shot rang off the post and stayed out, Olds managed to jam home a loose puck, but a quick whistle negated the goal. Some luck kept the Crusaders in the lead.
With the momentum shifting towards the visitors, a powerplay opportunity might have saved the Crusaders. They didn’t get a goal but did a fantastic job of keeping possession of the puck and generating chances. The five even-strength minutes after the powerplay were clearly controlled by Sherwood Park.
The best chance for Olds to even this game up came in the final ten minutes of the game when they spent three straight minutes on the power play, including a full 60 seconds with a two-man advantage. Credit to the Crusader’s penalty killers and to Carter Gylander, who faced a large volume of shots and turned them all aside.
A missed opportunity for Olds allowed the Crusaders to put this one away. With four minutes to go, Carter Savoie stripped a Grizzlies d-man and unleashed a rocket of a wrister. That would stand as the insurance marker. 4-2 Crusaders the final.
MICHAEL BENTZ: I liked what I saw from Bentz last season, but he was only 17-years-old and had some warts. Still, even last year I thought he had top-pairing potential and today he looked the part. I know the competition isn’t at it’s highest in the preseason, but Bentz looked like a man amongst boys most shifts. He made a handful of very smart plays in the offensive zone as well. He also got his teammates fired up with a nice fight at the end of the second period.
CARTER SAVOIE: This was my first chance getting to see Savoie live and he lived up to my expectations. He has elite speed and he showed off his patience and rocket of a shot on the games second goal. He would add the fourth goal as well, which was a fantastic display of his skillset. He used his speed and strong stick to strip his defender and then just waited out the Grizzlies goalie before picking the top corner. It seems like every time he’s on the ice, he’s making something happen. He has ‘Rookie of the Year’ candidate written all over him.
ZAFIR RAWJI: He’s far from the biggest player on the ice, but he brings a good mix of speed and energy to the Crusaders lineup. He was centering a line with Carter Savoie and was able to keep up with his speed and the two think the game pretty similarly. They connected for the second goal of the game and had multiple shifts in the final forty minutes where they pinned the Grizzlies with a solid cycle game.
- One thing I immediately noticed was the overall speed of the Cru. Not just straight-line skating speed, but the general quickness in which they move the puck up ice. While it’s never been a glaring problem in past years, it’s also never been a clear-cut strength. That may change this year given their group of players.
- The powerplay looked solid in their few opportunities. They threw lots of pucks on net and put them in smart spots. Michael Bentz did a great job of generating rebounds with his point shot.
- Watching Carter Savoie and Michael Benning on the same powerplay should get Crusaders fans very excited. The combination of raw skill and patience is going to be deadly all season long.
- There were a handful of chances that I’m sure Erik Miller would have liked back, including a look at a wide open net, which he fired wide. I’m never worried when a veteran player isn’t at 100% in the preseason, but I’m sure Miller would have loved to pot one of his chances.
- A few shaky moments for Carter Gylander off the bat, including a bouncing puck that he lost track off and a shot that rang off the post. At the end of things, he played a solid 60 minutes and stopped 29 of the 31 shots he faced. He was a little wobbly playing the puck as well. Gylander did stand on his head in the third period though, making some crucial stops while the team was shorthanded.
- They controlled the play for almost the entire game, but there were moments when they got a little too cute for my liking. I wouldn’t say it was a HUGE problem, but when they were up 3-0 you saw some guys try moves that you know they wouldn’t in a one-goal game.
The Crusaders will head to Olds to finish off the preseason home-and-home set. Puck drop is set for 7 pm on Wednesday and even better news… IT’S THE FINAL PRESEASON GAME!!! The games start to count on Friday the 14th when the Crusaders hit the road and head to Drayton Valley to face off against the Thunder.