In Season Acquisitions
Kyle Chase was one of the most active General Managers during the regular season. Chase pushed his team in the right direction, and when you look at the roster from day one compared to game five vs. Grande Prairie there is an extremely positive difference.
The first name brought in was forward Ryan Cox from the Fort McMurray Oil Barons in exchange for forward Merritt Oszytko. At the time, this seemed like a bold move by Chase. Oszytko was heading into his third season with the Cru and was off to a hot start playing at a point per game rate.
On top of that, he had a significant presence in the locker room which was massive at the time considering how young and new the majority of the players were in the league. Either way, Merritt Oszytko was heading North and Ryan Cox was heading home. Like Oszytko, Cox was off to a solid start to the season, in 17 games with the Oil Barons he had nine goals including two game winners.
Cox made an immediate impact on his new team, scoring in the first period of his first game against his old team. Cox gave the Crusaders a legitimate goal-scoring threat and stepped into Tyler Maltby’s role from the year prior. The 1998-born winger wrapped up his first season with the Crusaders with 38 goals (a team high) and 67 points (tied for the team lead with Dylan Stewart). The scoring winger stepped up his game for the playoffs too, collecting both Player of the Game awards in the team’s two home games – games three/four – and scoring eight points across the five matchups.
Next season, you can guarantee Cox will score a minimum of 40 goals, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see him finish with the most goals in the AJHL.
Next up, Erik Miller, a native of Sherwood Park, joined his hometown team after being reassigned by the Kootenay Ice in November. And just like his new teammate Ryan Cox, he proved that his old side was wrong to let him go and netted two powerplay goals in his Crusaders debut versus the Lloydminster Bobcats.
The former Ice forward became an essential player to Head Coach Adam Manah’s lineup as somebody who could play up and down the lineup and in any situation. He was one of the team’s best penalty killers, but also found himself on the powerplay occasionally. His role with the team next season may involve him playing a more regular position in the top six with both Ty Readman and Dylan Stewart heading off to college. A great find by Kyle Chase.
The list continues with the return of fan favourite, Arjun Atwal. Atwal had played with the Crusaders during the 2016/17 season, but his fantastic display on the ice – 31 points in 33 games – caught the eye of the Saskatoon Blades. His return gave the Cru another top quality skilled forward to plug into the lineup giving them more depth.
The sophomore forward picked up right where he left off with the team, scoring four points in his first five games. One big difference from Atwal was his size. He came back as a much thicker and stronger forward who couldn’t be shoved off the puck with ease.
Tyler Jette was the next to join the club in mid-December. Jette quickly became one of the Cru’s top defencemen; along with lifelong Crusader Ben McLeod. The Farmington native’s first game for Sherwood Park came in the team’s comeback against the Drumheller Dragons. The 6 foot 3 defenceman found Miller back down on the powerplay which resulted in the game-winning goal.
At the end of season awards, Jette was a co-winner (Ben McLeod) of the defenceman of the year award. His size, puck moving ability, and high hockey IQ make Jette one the best players in the AJHL. It’ll be exciting to watch him play a full 60 games next season and show off his talents to the rest of the league.
Finally, Chase made a three-way trade on deadline day which saw Tyler Pang join the Olds Grizzlys in exchange for goaltender Josh Brindza, who was only able to suit up once for his new team in 2018 – more on him later. The deal also saw the Crusaders acquire Tyson Gruninger from crosstown rivals, the Spruce Grove Saints.
Gruninger was a great addition, the combination of his incredible speed and physicality gave the organization something they’d hadn’t had all season. The former Saint and Oil King forward played in 21 games scoring 17 points (11 goals, six assists) along with two game-winning goals. Gruninger gave the Cru a bit more grit and skill, they had the grit and the skill, but not combined into one player. A full season with the team – much like Tyler Jette – could see him become of the league’s top players.
Overall, the Crusaders hit on every trade they made in 2018. The bonus part is knowing that each one of them is eligible to return to the organization for the 2018/19 season. Sherwood Park is heading in the right direction, and the moves they’ve made are helping them take the steps closer to their primary goal: the AJHL Championship.
The rookie class of 2018 had a great variety of players, from skilled puck moving wingers to hard-nosed no-nonsense gritty defensemen. With 11 new players on the team, many critics had the organization struggling mightily and even missing out on the playoffs. That turned out not to be the case, mostly due to the fact of how quickly they adapted to the league.
Will Zapernick and Garrett Clegg lead the way for the rookie’s offensively. Zapernick was the hardest working player on the ice each and every night for both teams. In 57 games for the Cru, the Edmonton native scored 34 points (13 goals, 21 assists) and was the teams highest scoring rookie. Zapernick was presented with the Rookie of the Year award at the final home game of the regular season against Spruce Grove.
As for Clegg, his 19 goals had him tied for fourth on the team with Readman and the most by a rookie. His efforts in 2018 had him selected to the North All-Rookie team.
It wasn’t just offense that the rookie brought to the lineup, a trio of newcomers – Deklan Whillans, Payton McIsaac, and Michael Bentz – gave the organization a strong physical presence on the ice every night. The three of them combined for 297 penalty minutes.
Between the pipes, Brandon Vogel was one of the teams top performers. He played in 42 games as a rookie and played the most minutes by a rookie in the AJHL. Over those 42 contests, the Fort Saskatchewan native picked up 17 wins, two shutouts – tied for second most by a rookie – and held a 3.54 GAA. Without Vogel I am not sure how the Crusaders would’ve done in 2018.
As for the rest of the rookie class, Chase Anderson and Jacob Franczak did a great job in their bottom six roles. Franczak became a solid penalty killer and with the departure of both Readman and Stewart he could climb his away up the depth charts.
Aiden Yakimchuk showed potential to be an excellent shutdown defenceman in the future. His fellow defenceman, Blair Bush has a great offensive side to him, but needs to unleash it a little more often.
Finally Eric Blanchette. For me he has the biggest upside. Towards the backend of the season he started to put himself in the right spots, but couldn’t quite find his finishing touch. The Sherwood Park native is only one year removed of his AMHL scoring title, next year should be a big one for the youngest Blanchette.
Depth of Roster
It went somewhat unrecognized by the rest of the league, but the Sherwood Park Crusaders have an extremely deep lineup.
The Crusaders wrapped up their regular season with nine players finishing with ten or more goals. Not one other team in the North Division had more players do that, and only the Okotoks Oilers (12) and Brooks Bandits (10) had more in the entire league. The Cru also had three players finish in the top-20 of league scoring which was tied for the most with the Spruce Grove Saints, and Okotoks Oilers; the two best teams in the AJHL.
Furthermore, the Cru were riddled with injuries for good chunks of this season. Luckily for them, they have a great crop of Midget AAA players who were able to step into the holes and play at a high level. That was best displayed on November 25th when the Crusaders hosted the Drayton Valley Thunder at the Sherwood Park Arena. That night, they had five affiliate players in the lineup – Bryce Bader, Connor Hart, Kyle Fulton, Marcus McEachran and Cameron Aucoin – and managed to pull off a 5-0 shutout victory.
Even though they were playing the Thunder, the Cru had just lost to them earlier that month so it was an impressive result.