I don’t think the Sherwood Park Crusaders could have dreamt up a better start to the season than they just had. Through one month of play, the Crusaders are 7-0 and have been winning rather decisively.
They got the year going on home ice with a 7-5 victory over the Lloydminster Bobcats and from there, they defeated the Bobcats once again, the Thunder, the Wolverines, and the Oil Barons by a combined score of 19-6.
From there, they went on the AJHL Showcase in Camrose and put their dominance on display in front of the entire league. They kicked off the weekend with a 6-3 win over the Drumheller Dragons and then capped off their Showcase with a thrilling 6-5 victory over the Okotoks Oilers.
Even though they’re ranked 2nd in the CJHL, you could make an argument that the Sherwood Park Crusaders are still not at their best. Carter Gylander has had a tough start to the season posting a 3.55 GAA to go with an 0.855 SV%. Even Gylander himself would likely admit that he was not his best in September. You can’t blame him either. He was in Russia with Team AJHL and didn’t see any game action during the JCWC. The fact that he came to camp late, after spending time overseas, and not playing a game is a good enough reason to cut Gylander a lot of slack. He’ll be better as the season continues.
Jordan Frey has picked up the slack though. He’s started his Crusaders career with three wins in three starts, one shutout, a 1.50 GAA, and a 0.915 SV%. He was dynamite, and for me, he’s been the biggest surprise on this roster through seven games.
Here are some other storylines from the first month of play:
Go to www.AJHL.ca and click on the “League Leaders” link. A page will pop up that shows you who has scored the most points in the entire league so far this season. The first three names are all members of the Sherwood Park Crusaders’ top line.
Simply put: Arjun Atwal, Carter Savoie, and Will Zapernick have been virtually unstoppable through seven games. The trio has combined for 53 points through their first seven games. That’s a staggeringly good number.
I said at the beginning of the season that if this trio played together, they would be the highest-scoring line in the AJHL. They’re living up to the hype, and right now, I can’t see a scenario where Adam Manah would want to break them up.
Their top line is scoring, but they’re also getting contributions from the back end. Michael Benning is over a point-per-game, and Brennan McDonnell has four points in seven games. Upfront, Jarred White and Jacon Franczak have provided the secondary scoring. Both players are over a point-per-game. Getting that depth scoring is what will help later in the year and into the playoffs, and it’s something I’ll be keeping a close eye on as we roll through the season.
A NEAR PERFECT PENALTY KILL
They have not allowed a powerplay goal so far this season. Their PK is a 29-for-29. To me, that is a testament to how much these players are willing to fight for each other and how much they’ve bought into what Adam Manah and Jeff Woywitka are preaching.
The powerplay was ice cold to start the season, but they’ve since found their groove, and now they have the best powerplay percentage in the league (28.13%). When they were struggling, Head Coach, Adam Manah told me that it was simply some guys gripping their sticks too tight and some guys just not being in mid-season form yet with the puck on their stick. He was right not to be concerned. That group is too talented to not get hot with the man advantage at some point. Now it’s a matter of them staying hot and proving they can consistently be good.
GM Kyle Chase was busy in September, as he often is, and added a pair of former WHL players to a forward core that was already one of the deepest in the league.
Blake Sydlowski was brought in after being released by the Red Deer Rebels, and while he hasn’t registered a point quite yet, I think he’ll be an impact player by the end of the season. Same with Davis Murray. The Former Oil King has only appeared in two games with the Cru, but I liked him during his time in the WHL. Once these two get acclimated to the AJHL, I think they’ll start to stand out.
PLAYER OF THE MONTH
It absolutely has to be Arjun Atwal. The Crusaders Captain leads the league in scoring and got some recognition from the league, being named the Offensive Player of the Week.
I loved the decision to make Atwal the team Captain. I think he’s an excellent leader both on and off the ice. This month, he’s been their leader on the scoresheet as well. His offensive production is outstanding, and what I love about Atwal is even if the offence dries up (which I doubt it will) he’s still a guy who won’t change his game. He’s solid at both ends of the rink, and honestly, I think he’s the heartbeat of this team.
If you want to hear more from Arjun, you can listen to my interview with him on ‘Inside The AJHL’ HERE.
LOOKING AT OCTOBER
The Crusaders will take to the ice 12 times this month (5-home & 7-away) starting with a three-game southern road trip that will see them take on the Canmore Eagles, Okotoks Oilers, and Olds Grizzlies. From there, they will return home for three straight games (Fort McMurray, Drumheller, Drayton Valley).
One thing that jumps off the page to me: four matchups against the Oil Barons. We saw these two clubs develop a bit of a rivalry last season and there were some heated moments in their first game of the season earlier this month. For the full schedule, HEAD HERE: https://admin.esportsdesk.com/leagues/schedules.cfm?selectedMonth=10&selectedYear=2019&selectedTeamID=536976&selectedOfficialID=0&leagueID=3464&clientID=1705&embedLID=3464&embedCID=1705&whichSched=main&mixed=1&teamID=536976