For a team that lost the majority of their roster this offseason, signing day was obviously a busy one for the Crusaders.
The Crusaders brought in a total of 11 players who they believe can help steer this organization in the direction of a championship.
Sherwood Park has never been home to an AJHL championship team, in fact, the last time this team made to the championship game was way back in 1990 when they lost to the Calgary Canucks.
Last season’s team had the talent to take it all the way, but some shaky goaltending and inconsistency from everyone stopped the team from completing the dream.
As for this year’s recruits, Coach Manah, and general manager, Kyle Chase has brought in a variety of players. The 11 recruits will include two goaltenders, one defenceman, and eight forwards. The Crusaders want to be known as a local team with local talent, therefore, eight of the new players are from the Edmonton area.
Let’s take a look at the new boys:
Not sure if we can call him new but we will anyway! Brandon Vogel is already a well-known name around the Sherwood Park Arena after his superb performance in last year’s playoffs. After some departures, Vogel was called up towards the end of the regular season and asked to carry the load for the Crusaders. Game one of the Gas Drive Playoffs was when Vogel shined, making 43 saves on 44 shots helping his team get a 1-0 lead in the series. If what he did in the playoffs is anything to go off, Crusaders fans shouldn’t be surprised to see Vogel in the conversation for the goaltender of the year.
The second goaltender signed was Calgary native, Sam Burford. Now, Burford has some AJHL experience after making two appearances for the Olds Grizzlies in 2017. This is a guy that will be pushing Vogel for the number one spot. In midget AAA, last season, Burford posted 1.91 goals against, .930 save percentage, and recorded three shutouts which were all ranked in the top five of the AMHL.
The Crusaders allowed the third most goals in the North last season, ultimately resulting in them being unable to make any progress up the standings in the regular season. With the signings of both Vogel and Burford, the Crusaders will now have a much-improved goaltending staff.
McIsaac is the lone defenseman in the group and also another name Crusaders fans may recognize. In 2017, McIsaac participated in two games for the Crusaders, making his presence known both physically and offensively. They way he played in those two games reminded me a lot of his new teammate, Cam Reagan; a no-nonsense d-man who is not afraid to throw a hit. Also, like Reagan, McIsaac showed off his offensive game in AAA scoring 23 points which were the most by a defenceman on his team, the Fort Saskatchewan Rangers. When Reagan graduates from the team at the of 2018, McIsaac should be able to step right into his role. Despite signing with the Crusaders, McIsaac will be given all the opportunity to go and attempt the make the Saskatoon Blades at their training camp. He is a 2nd round draft pick of the Blades, selected 39th overall.
After what Coach Manah told me about Garrett Clegg he reminded me a lot of Tyler Maltby.
“He is extremely strong, plays the game with an edge, and has a rocket of a shot. Simply put Garrett knows how to put the puck in the net.”
Sounds very familiar right?
Clegg is actually another player that has played for the Crusaders in the past. From the game I saw him in last season, he played tough and fought hard for every puck. He played as if he’d be playing in the league for numerous years. Out of all the players in this recruitment class, Clegg is the one I am most excited for. Also, Clegg was our most recent guest on the Inside the Cru where he said he modeled his game around Leon Draisaitl. Crusaders fans should be excited to see this guy on a nightly basis.
“Deklan is a player that brings size to our lineup. He’s 6’2, 175 lbs and plays a heavy game. That is something that has developed in his game over the past couple years, and he is now a big power forward.” Coach Adam Manah told me, “He’s strong in the corners, uses his big frame to protect pucks, and when he gets the chance takes pucks hard to the net.”
This is the type of player I love that watch play. Somebody he plays the game simple and gets the job done. Like Coach Manah said, Whillians is a big body who plays a heavy game and you’d think penalty minutes would come along with that but not in this case. In AAA last season, he only registered 32 penalty minutes whilst contributed to the score on 16 different occasions. Whillians will be a welcome addition to this lineup who lost a lot of size with the departures of Tyler Maltby, Tanner Younghans, and Ben Sowa.
Osepchuk is the third player recruited from the Fort Saskatchewan Rangers, like his teammates, he has played a handful of games for the Crusaders. Much like Whillians, Osepchuk is another big body being brought in to give the Crusaders more season going into next season and moving forward. I could see Osepchuk play a role much similar to what Tanner Younghans did last season, dishing out hit after hit but also contributing the on the scoreboard often.
Anderson is coming to the Crusaders as an 18-year after playing his final year of minor hockey with the Lloydminster Bobcats midget AAA team. Anderson led the Bobcats in points with 29 whilst scoring 13 goals. He’s a tall, lean, skilled forward that will bring more scoring depth to this ever growing young team. The Crusaders will be hoping that he can continue his development and become a solid distributor for them.
The first of two Sherwood Park products recruited this season, Graham Blanchette is a centreman that can play at both ends of the ice. In the 34 games he skated in last season for the Sherwood Park J. Ennis AAA Kings, Blanchette posted 33 points whilst scoring 16 goals, he finished the season 12th in points.
His success on the ice led to a call up to the Crusaders against the Fort McMurray Oil Barons, the first game BTI ever covered for the Crusaders. Tyler covered that game and in the “Cru Wrap” he wrote, “Graham Blanchette looked really good in his debut, poised with the puck and went hard on the forecheck. Easily one of the hardest workers in the game.”
Crusaders fans should be expecting much of the same from him next season.
Onto the second of the Sherwood Park products and also the second Blanchette. Eric is the younger brother of Graham and had a massive season in the AMHL for the J. Ennis AAA Kings last season. Blanchette wrapped up his breakout year with 40 points which helped him finish first in the scoring race.
“Eric is a guy that can play on the wall or down the middle. He brings good size, has great speed, and is a very smart player. He has a great skill set, in which he can set guys up, or put the puck in himself.” – Coach Adam Manah
I enjoyed watching Runco play in his limited games for the Crusaders last season. He’s quick on his feet which help him beat his opponents to the puck almost every time.
“Every time our head scout Vince (Sinatynski) went out to watch Marco (Runco) play, he was the best offensive/defensive player, but also consistently the hardest worker night in and night out,” General Manager Kyle Chase told me. “He’s been hitting the weights hard and you can’t have enough character guy like him around.”
I recently saw the Crusaders practice filled with players trying to make the team. Everybody had left the ice and the last player out there was Runco still working, that just shows what kind of person and a player the Crusaders are getting. A hard working player that wants to improve his game every day.
Zapernick is a quick player who loves to get his name on the boxscore. In the AMHL, he finished 8th in the scoring race with 35 points. He’s coming in from the South Side Athletic Club who are known for developing quality hockey players, former Crusader Arjun Atwal is an example of the talent that comes out of this program.
“Will is a player that will bring a lot of character to our line-up. He isn’t the biggest guy on the ice, but works extremely hard in all three zones, and brings tremendous speed. On top of that, he continues to work on his skill set, and is never satisfied with where he is at.” Coach Manah told me. “He brings a lot of energy, and is a pretty funny kid too! We love everything that he will bring to our hockey team.”
Zapernick does have some AJHL experience after playing in two games for the Drayton Valley Thunder.
And there you have it, the recruitment class of 2017 for the Sherwood Park Crusaders. As a collective, they bring size, speed, and plenty of offense. The goaltending situation the Cru had last season should now be out of the window with the two talented netminders they’ve brought in.
Next season should be an exciting one for the Crusaders organization.