On March 13th, the buzzer sounded and the Crusaders were eliminated from the AJHL playoffs in first round for the first time since 2011. They went down to one of their biggest rivals, the Bonnyville Pontiacs, 3 to 1 after leading the series.
It was definitely a difficult lose for the team, with all the talent they had on the roster many people expected them to last longer.
Within the talented roster, that game four defeat was the end for five Crusaders who next season would be over the age limit.
Ben Sowa, Chase Torontow, Tyler Maltby, Gage Joel, and Tanner Younghans wouldn’t be getting another shot at the Gas Drive Cup. However, it was not the end of their hockey careers.
Next season, the collegiate hockey world will be introduced to the five graduating Crusaders.
Two of the five graduating players will be heading south next fall. Chase Torontow has committed to the University of Nevada Las Vegas of the ACHA. Next season, the Rebels will be making the jump from division two to division one in the ACHA. Once the 2017 season was over, the Rebels finished up with a 29-7-0 record, only losing one of those games at home.
“After my fly down to UNLV I knew I wanted to go there. It’s an exciting time to be on a hockey team in Las Vegas with the Golden Knights coming to the city,” said the Crusaders co-defenceman of the year. “The program is partnered with them and their new facility, where we will be playing our home games, is world class. We will be on the ice before [the Knights] almost everyday.”
The other Crusader heading south is forward Gage Joel. He’ll begin his collegiate career at the University of Central Oklahoma Bronchos, a division one team in the ACHA. Since the school opened up the hockey program in 2006, the Bronchos have captured the ACHA National Championship twice with their most recent coming just last season. The first championship came only two years prior to that in 2015.
Joel and Torontow may be moving away, but Cru fans will still be able to see a few graduates still play not so far away. Tanner Younghans, Tyler Maltby, and Ben Sowa will all be staying in Edmonton playing the ACAC.
Both Younghans and Maltby will be joining former Crusaders head coach Tim Fragle with the NAIT Ooks. The Ooks roster is built up of former Crusaders like Cam Brezinski, Devon McAndrews, and Brett Magee who were all part of the ACAC finalist team from last year. These two forwards are joining an excellent hockey program and one that has had plenty of success.
“I’ve always looked at NAIT since I was young, both my parents went there and there are a lot of programs that are very suitable for me,” said Tanner Younghans. “The hockey is very good there, but the big thing is getting my education.”
Former captain Ben Sowa is the latest Crusader to commit to post-secondary for the 2017/18 season. Sowa will be competing against his former teammates for the ACAC title with the Concordia Thunder.
With all five graduating players, the Crusaders are one of only a few teams to have all their graduates head to post-secondary.
Additionally, the Crusaders moved three players onto the next level of junior hockey.
Both Koletrane Wilson and Brendan Stafford signed contracts with the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL. Wilson signed with the Hurricanes towards the end of the 2016/17 season in preparation for the Hurricanes playoff run. He now has 4 WHL games under his belt, 3 of those being playoff games.
Stafford is joining the Hurricanes after playing all 60 games in the regular season last season, the only 16-year old to do that. He had an excellent rookie campaign scoring 24 points which ultimately gave him the chance to move a higher level of junior hockey.
You can add Arjun Atwal to this bunch too, he’s currently playing in the WHL for the Saskatoon Blades where he played 29 games last season. Atwal started out the 2017 season with the Cru and was one of the best rookies in the AJHL.
Now, from a Crusaders fan perspective, it’s disappointing to see these many key players leave the organization in one offseason. No more Maltby, no more Wilson, and no more Stafford. For on ice entertainment, it really is a shame that fans likely won’t see those players in a Crusaders uniform again.
On the other hand, in only one season general manager, Kyle Chase plus his coaching staff of Adam Manah and Jeff Woywitka have done a phenomenal job of developing players. Five out of five of their graduating players are moving onto post-secondary, and three players have moved onto the WHL, strengthening their chances of making it the NHL.
This organization should be proud of what they have achieved this past season. While they may not have brought home a championship, what they did do is continue to develop the next generation of hockey players.
Let’s hope we can see this streak continue next season with the 2018 graduating class.