Goaltending has been an issue for the organization now for the last two seasons. However, this year there was nobody truly to blame. Due to injuries, call-ups, and underperforming, rookie netminder Brandon Vogel was forced to play in 42 games, which is a substantial workload for a rookie coming out of Midget AAA. Despite that, Vogel put in many solid performances for the Crusaders and had his name in the hat for the teams MVP award.
To start out the year, Sam Burford was brought in to challenge Vogel for the number one spot in Sherwood Park. His impressive Midget AAA number with the Calgary Royals had the organization excited about what the rookie could bring to the team. Unfortunately, Burford was unable to adapt to the league’s style and struggled massively in his five games with the Cru posting a 4.83 GAA, and a 0.859 save percentage. The Calgary native was eventually released from the team and now plays for the Creston Valley Thunder Cats in the KIJHL.
Then came along Josh Dechaine from the La Ronge Ice Wolves of the SJHL after the Edmonton Oil Kings released him. The numbers don’t show it, but Dechaine was a significant upgrade over Burford. The St Albert native finished up with a record of 3-4-1 before being called back up to play for the Edmonton Oil Kings.
Finally, at the AJHL trade deadline, General Manager Kyle Chase went out and fixed his goaltending issues with the acquisition of Josh Brindza. Brindza was brought in from the Olds Grizzlys in exchange for Crusaders offensive defenceman Tyler Pang. His numbers weren’t pretty when he joined the team, but, he was playing for the worst defensive team in the South Division. On January 13th, the Edmonton native made his first start in Crusaders colours against the Canmore Eagles. He had a stellar start to his time in Sherwood Park allowing only two goals until midway through the third when tragedy struck. Brindza was clipped by an Eagles player on his left pad which caused him to be in significant pain. It also caused him to miss the remainder of the season.
Next season, it will be a big priority for this team to get some sustainable goaltending. What happened to Brindza was unfortunate and could’ve happened to anybody. The nice thing is that he’ll be able to return next year. The Crusaders also got a few solid outings out of affiliate goaltenders Carter Gylander and Ben Rishaug. You can almost guarantee those three guys will be fighting for the backup role in training camp.
November Injury Woes
The Crusaders were hit with many injuries in November with a total of eight players going down for multiple games. Topping that list was team MVP Ty Readman who managed to only play in two games from November 6th to December 15th. Sherwood Park was also left without puck-moving defenceman Tyler Pang, Assistant Captain Brandon Wallis, and veteran leader Ben McLeod.
Despite the loss of numerous key players, the Cru managed to stay afloat and finished the month of November with a 5-5-1 record. However, they did suffer a crushing loss to the Drayton Valley Thunder during that time, giving them only their fourth win of the season.
Dropping two games to Grande Prairie also affected their playoff seeding at the end of the year; making them miss out on home ice advantage in the first round. You’ve got to think that if the Crusaders had home ice, they’d of made it to the second round. Ultimately, the losses suffered in November, both on and off the ice, played a big part in this organization missing out on fourth place.
Eight Game-Losing Streak
It all started on Sunday, January 28th, the Crusaders were hosting the Okotoks Oilers, and despite an 8-5 lose they actually played a decent game against the best team in the nation. A slow last 20 minutes is what let them down.
Even with a good performance, they were unable to take anything from that game and then lost the following Tuesday in Camrose, and then Friday against Brooks, and then the same again versus Okotoks. The losing continued for four more games – Calgary Mustangs (8-3), Bonnyville Pontiacs (3-2), Fort McMurray Oil Barons (8-3), and Spruce Grove Saints (6-0).
The Crusaders may as well of not showed up for any of those games. Their performances were poor, even when they played against lesser opponents like the Bonnyville Pontiacs.
In their game against Okotoks, at the Parson Centennial Arena, the referees allowed a questionable goal which did result in the loss. A win that night could’ve changed everything.
These loses ultimately ended with the Crusaders finishing fifth in the North Division and losing out on home-ice advantage in the first round. A couple of victories during that span would’ve completely changed the outcome of the team’s season. Who knows, maybe they’d still be in the playoffs now.