With the season opener now less than a week away, the Sherwood Park Crusaders have finalized their roster for the upcoming season.
The Cru is coming off a season which saw them go 27-31-2, good for fifth in the AJHL’s North Division. Their playoff run was short-lived, as they were eliminated in five games by the Grande Prairie Storm.
The 2018-19 version of the Crusaders will feature a much different look than in years past. The likes of Ty Readman, Dylan Stewart, Ben McLeod and Brendan Kallis are out and are being replaced by an uber-talented young core.
On top of the youth movement, there will be a group of returning players looking to take major steps forward and prove that they can be impact players in the AJHL.
I’ll start my roster breakdown with the veterans who should be major drivers for this years team:
Out of their top five scoring forwards, only two will be returning, and they are William Zapernick (13-21-34 in 57gp) as well as Brandon Wallis (11-22-33 in 54gp). I expect those two to be the teams most consistent wingers. Garrett Clegg came just shy of the 20-goal mark in his rookie year, and this year, I wouldn’t be stunned if he hit 30. If he returns from the USHL, I expect him to be a very impactful forward.
Down the middle, I’m expecting Arjun Atwal to be this teams #1 centre. He’s spent the last two seasons splitting time between the Cru and the Saskatoon Blades (WHL), and when he’s been in the AJHL, he’s almost been a point per game guy. Erik Miller is the other returning centre, and like Atwal, he has significant WHL experience. In his first full year in the AJHL last season he notched 31 points, and now that he’s a little more comfortable, I expect him to be a real impact player.
On the backend, I’m super excited to see Michael Bentz this season. I saw him briefly in the preseason, and I think he has the potential to be this teams #1 defenseman. He can kill penalties, run a powerplay, and take difficult matchups at even strength.
Tyler Jette hasn’t been returned from Tri-City (WHL), but he’s listed on their active roster, and if he is back, that would be massive. If he’s in the AJHL for an entire season, he will be a defenceman of the year candidate. Having him and Bentz spread out on separate pairings would be an incredible luxury.
The 2018-19 crop of rookies is perhaps the most impressive element of this roster. I’ll start with Carter Savoie, who is coming into his rookie season with some serious hype behind him, and it’s deserved. He’s only 16, but I think we’re looking at a player who can easily score 20 this year. Two years from now, he might be the best player in the league. His rookie season will be something else.
Zafir Rawji is a 17-year-old rookie from the South Side Athletic Club who could find his way into the top six very quickly. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in pure speed and skill.
Cam Aucoin rounds out the group of rookie forwards.
On the backend, the Cru have four rookie defenceman on their roster. Michael Benning is the name that excites me the most. He plays a fearless game, he skates well, and he knows when to take a risk and when to sit back just play good defence. He’s very mature for a 16-year-old defenceman.
Kyle Fulton looked good in the preseason as well; he has the potential to be an everyday defenceman this year. Connor Hart and Brennan McDonnell will also get chances to play as rookies.
THE NEW FACES
General Manager Kyle Chase made two significant trades, and both impressed me.
In June, he acquired 20-year-old defenseman Riley Perka from Notre Dame (SJHL). With the number of rookies that will be on this team’s blueline, I think Perka’s experience will be incredibly valuable. He won’t do anything flashy, but he’ll give this team solid minutes.
Last week, the team made a big splash acquiring Tyson Scott and Brett Wieschorster from the Drumheller Dragons. Scott is the big piece in this deal. The 19-year-old notched 44 points in his rookie season and he’s a guy who I think can be a point-per-game player this season.
Wieschorster, a Sherwood Park native, was the other piece in the deal and while I don’t think he will impact the score sheet as much as Scott will, he’s listed at 6’2 and 185 pounds and should bring some much-needed size to this forward group.
Ethan Kopycyzn was also brought in from the Humboldt (SJHL) in exchange for 2000-born defenceman Payton McIsaac.
Brandon Vogel is back for his second full season in Sherwood Park, and I expect he will be this teams starter. He finished last year with a 3.54 GAA and a 0.894 SV%, while those aren’t strong individual numbers, he’s a reliable AJHL goaltender.
Carter Gylander has cracked the team as a 17-year-old, and I expect him to get a lot of action, even if he is the presumed backup. He looked strong in the preseason, and there’s no doubt this organization views him as their goalie of the future. It will be interesting to see how he progresses this season.
One final note on the goaltending, 20-year-old stopper Matt Berlin is still at camp with the Kootenay Ice (WHL). If he’s sent back, I fully expect him to handle a strong majority of the workload. It’s far from a sure thing, however.