Tonight, the best team in the AJHL’s North Division was taking on the hottest team in the North as the Bonnyville Pontiacs, who have won five of their last six games, rolled into the Sherwood Park Arena to take on the 20-2-0 Crusaders.
The Cru has been enjoying some time off as of late. They haven’t played since last Wednesday when they beat the Lloydminster Bobcats 4-0. For the Pontiacs, they’re coming off a 3-0 loss to the Canmore Eagles but before that, had rattled off five consecutive wins.
This was also the first meeting of the year between these two teams. Considering that there’s a very real possibility that these two teams end up meeting in the playoffs, tonight is a big measuring stick game for both sides.
Here’s how things played out:
The opening frame got off to a bit of a slow start, but the Crusaders managed to get on the board first thanks to a great shift by their fourth line. The play started in their own zone and ended with a nice passing play that Brett Hyland initiated, and Brett Weishcorster finished off.
The Pontiacs needed just ten seconds to respond as Marc-Antoine Benoit stepped into the o-zone and ripped home a wrist shot. His 10th of the season was an absolute beauty.
The Crusaders seemed to pick it up for the remainder of the first period. They hit a pair of goalposts and had a handful of nice chances on their first powerplay opportunity; they just couldn’t find the back of the net.
The period ended 1-1.
The Crusader’s top line got on the scoresheet just 54 seconds into the period. Will Zapernick netted his 16th of the year while Carter Savoie got an assist, which padded his lead in the AJHL scoring race. He’s up to 45 points on the year. Michael Benning also picked up his 34th point of the year. He leads all defensemen in scoring.
Once again, Bonnyville had a response and evened things up at two around the eight-minute mark. The second period was much closer than the first, and honestly, Bonnyville did a pretty good job of putting pressure on the Crusaders. You can only prevent the Crusaders from getting offensive chances for so long, but I thought the Pontiacs played a suffocating style of hockey. They’re a much quicker team than I thought they’d be.
Neither team found the back of the net again in the second period.
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Right off the bat, the Crusaders were given back-to-back chances with the man advantage, but they weren’t able to generate much in the form of high-danger chances. Given the amount of skill they have, I would like to see them have more of a killer instinct when they’re given powerplays at crucial moments. Tonight’s poor performance dropped them to fourth in the AJHL in terms of PP%.
Of course, as it usually goes in hockey, once the Pontiacs killed off their two minor penalties they were given their own set of back-to-back powerplays. The funny thing about this sequence from a Crusaders perspective is that they almost scored on a shorthanded two-on-one. Their best chance during the first ten minutes of the period came while shorthanded, not during one of their two powerplays.
While their powerplay let them down, their penalty kill bailed them out during the first ten minutes.
The home side even got another chance on the powerplay in the final ten minutes, and once again, they had nothing to show for it. They did seem to gain some momentum from their sixth powerplay opportunity of the night and controlled the play for the rest of regulation.
With just over two minutes remaining, the Crusaders got one more shot with the man-advantage, and they did not let this one go to waste. Jarred White scooped up the puck in the neutral zone, and just as he did, a Pontiacs defenseman blew a tire and White walked in and fired one over the glove hand side of Easton Hesse (who was very good tonight). where to purchase cheap Maxalt no rx That gave the Crusaders a 3-2 lead, and they held on for the victory.
- The biggest knock on this Crusaders team was that they hadn’t been playing top-level opponents very often early in the year. Three of their last four games have been against very good teams, and they’ve continued to look good. I thought it was a petty criticism, but it was out there, and the Crusaders are proving their doubters wrong.
- There were A LOT of powerplays tonight and personally, I love that. Powerplays are exciting and encourage offence. As long as things are consistent, I don’t mind a game with ten powerplays.
- Sherwood Park has made out-shooting their opposition a habit. They’ve been outshot twice this year. Once to Okotoks and once to the Saints. Other than that, they consistently out-chanced their opponents.
- Before they got their final goal, they had to stop two shorthanded rushed by the Pontiacs. Michael Benning made a great play on one, and Reid Irwin stood tall on the other rush. Impressive plays that don’t show up in the boxscore.
The powerplay needed to get them a goal. Simple as that.Scratch that point. The powerplay got them a clutch goal.
- Allowing Bonnyville to tie the game ten seconds after getting the first goal really changed the momentum of this game, in my opinion. Tonight could have been very different if that hadn’t happened.
- I’m sure they would have liked to not have to kill off five penalties, but their discipline hasn’t really been an issue this year, and this was a night where the refs weren’t letting very much go.
- I’m going to sound soft here, but I don’t like seeing the Crusaders instigate things after the whistle. Sometimes the situation calls for it, and you need to stand up for a teammate, but the Crusaders are so skilled that I don’t think they need to run around instigating things. Beat teams with skill and don’t give teams a spark with physical altercations. Skate them into the ground.
The Crusaders will look to win their fourth in a row this Saturday night when they roll into Revolution Arena to take on the Grande Prairie Storm. Puck drop goes just after 7. Also, don’t forget that a new episode of Inside The Cru will drop this Thursday and you can tune into TSN 1260 this Saturday for Inside The AJHL!