At the Christmas break, the Sherwood Park Crusaders find themselves in unfamiliar terriority at the top of the Viterra North Division. They’ve already matched their season total from last year (54) with 25 games still left on the schedule.
That means it’s time for the BTI crew to hand out their Halfway Awards for the players that have stood out so far in this memorable season! Let’s hand out some hardware!
Liam: Matt Berlin
Since rejoining the team back in September, Matt Berlin has elevated this team’s play with arguably some of the best goaltending displays in the AJHL. The team plays with so much confidence knowing he’s between the pipes, and it’s extremely rare that he lets them down. Berlin brings a lot off the ice too with his great leadership and has been able to mentor the team’s rookie goaltender Carter Gylander. Without him in goal every night, the Crusaders wouldn’t be in the spot they are right now.
Tyler: The Goalies
I was going to say Matt Berlin, but then I decided that would be unfair to his partner in crime, Carter Gylander.
While Berlin has been one of the best and most consistent goaltenders in the entire AJHL this season, Gylander is right with him in almost every statistical category. In 12 starts, Gylander has a 9-2-1 record. While Berlin has handled the bulk of the workload, Gylander has played in some tough games and delivered win after win. They both are a huge reason why the Cru are where they are at this point in the season.
Ian: Carter Savoie:
Savoie leads the team in scoring this year and has been a play-maker for the Cru all year long. He’s a danger to score every time he’s on the ice for them.
Rookie of the Year:
Liam: Carter Savoie
I am not sure the AJHL has seen a 16-year-old come into the league and dominate as much as Carter Savoie has. He started the season out playing with Arjun Atwal on the top line, but then Atwal was hurt. It was going to be interesting how well he played without Atwal considering how dominant they had both been. However, Savoie excelled scoring 30 points in 21 games while also making his teammates around him look great. He leads the team in points with 49 points and is second in the AJHL behind only William Lemay from the Brooks Bandits. At the rate Savoie is going, we will see him be a first-round pick at the 2020 NHL Draft.
Tyler: Carter Savoie
Are we going to be super lame and all vote for Carter Savoie? PROBABLY! But how can you not! He’s top five in AJHL scoring, and HE’S ONLY 16-YEARS-OLD! What he’s doing this year is ridiculous. This is going to go down as one of the best seasons by a 16-year-old in AJHL history. He’s that good. Michael Benning has been great as well and deserves a lot of credit. What he’s doing as a defenseman is incredible for a player of any age, never mind a 16-year-old. Benning is a straight up stud. Gylander has been spectacular as well. But I’m hearing Savoie could be in the conversation for league MVP, that says a lot.
Ian: Carter Savoie….again:
Once again the importance of Savoie to this team shines through in him being my Rookie of the Year. Not only does he lead the team in scoring he currently sits in third place in the league.
Defenceman of the Year:
Liam: Michael Benning
Much like his fellow Denver Unversity commit Carter Savoie, Michael Benning has taken this league by storm. You can see the confidence growing in his game every night at both ends of the ice. Often, when you have an offensive defenceman, they can be a defensive liability. That is not the case with Benning. In 35 games, Benning is almost a point-per-game player with 32 points (3 goals, 29 assists) and is tied for third amongst the defenceman across the league in points. At the season end awards, he may be not only a candidate for Rookie of the Year but also Defenceman of the Year in the AJHL.
Tyler: Michael Benning
I suspect there’s going to be a lot of consistency when it comes to how our voting goes, but my vote here goes to Michael Benning. He’s almost a point-per-game as a defenseman. That’s impressive no matter how old you are. To be doing it in your rookie season is spectacular. His defensive game continues to get better, and I suspect he’ll be even more impactful in the second half of the season.
Ian: Michael Benning:
Benning is a true play-maker on top of being a solid shut down defenseman. He’s the Cru’s fourth-leading scorer on the team, and his passing is something to be amazed by. At just 16 years of age, he was also a candidate for Rookie of the Year.
Liam: Michael Bentz
Michael Bentz was the team’s Most Improved Player award last season, and at the midway point, he could easily win it, again. He came into the season a much better player, and a little dental work a couple of months ago has really benefitted him. Since he’s had to wear a bubble cage, Bentz has been forced to focus more on his offensive game and be a more well-rounded defenceman. He’s getting time on the powerplay now which is something we would only see in blowouts last season. The second-year Crusader has taken massive strides in the first half of the season, and fans should be excited for what’s to come in the second half with him.
Tyler: Will Zapernick
The high-end talent on this team gets a lot of the attention, but the secondary scoring has been fantastic this year. A big reason why? Will Zapernick. Last season he played in 54 games and posted a stat line of 13-21-34. This year? 19-16-35 and he’s only played 34 games. That’s quite an improvement, and that doesn’t even shine a light on his improvement in the defensive zone.
Ian: Garrett Clegg/William Zapernick:
It’s hard not to throw Clegg in here as he’s already surpassed all last year’s point total by 11 in just 30 games. But I’m throwing Zapernick in here too he’s tied his points total from last year just 34 games in and shows a real veteran presence in just his second season with the Cru.
Acquisition of the Year:
Liam: Brett Wieschorster
Brett Wieschorster was brought in to bring a different level of play to the Crusaders organization, and he has done just that. He plays a heavy physical game and loves to get into the oppositions grill. However, he all brings an offensive element to the game and has already surpassed his career-high from last season with 18 points (9 goals, 9 assists) in 32 games. We’ve seen the Vermont commit play up and down the lineup and have success with it. There aren’t many players on any roster that can do that.
Tyler: Nick Bowman
The move to bring in Nick Bowman has worked out incredibly. He’s notched 11 points in 7 games and brings so much more than offence. He plays a physical brand of hockey, and his WHL experience gives this forward group a needed veteran presence — a very astute move by GM Kyle Chase.
Ian: Jack Hamly:
It’s still early with Hamly playing just under ten games with the Cru, but he’s averaged a point per game since recently joining the team and is proving to be a solid contributor.
Liam: Brayden Hyland
With the injuries Brayden Hyland has had to go through in his junior hockey career it’s remarkable that he’s still playing. It also shows the type of player/person he is at the determination he has. Hyland is now in his final season of junior hockey but is technically still a rookie under the AJHL rule book after only playing a handful of games the past few seasons and all missing the entire 2017/18 year. The Edmonton native has worked his way into an everyday role on this team after being a healthy scratch to start out the season. In 26 games, Hyland has 15 points (7 goals, 8 assists) with very little (if any) top six minutes. He brings that depth scoring to the Crusaders which could be a big factor for them once March rolls around.
Tyler: Cody Laskosky
There are plenty of candidates, but I’ll say Cody Laskosky. Every time I watch him play, I notice him make a couple plays away from the puck that impresses me. He’ll bust his ass back and break up a scoring chance on a regular basis as well. I really like what he brings to this team.
Ian: Carter Gylander:
Both goaltenders have been outstanding for the Cru this year but add to that the back up in Gylander picking up a 9-2 record in 12 games and a 2.29 GAA which has allowed his team never to miss a beat when giving their starter a night off.
The season picks back up again on Friday when the Cru head to Lloydminster to take on the last place Bobcats from the Centennial Civic Centre Arena. With 25 games left to play it will be exciting to see how this year’s team will wrap things up!