Crusaders head to Showcase showdown on a real run

The Sherwood Park Crusaders sported a 5-0 record heading into this weekend's AJHL Showcase in Camrose. Photo courtesy Target Photography

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Never had they had more to Showcase.

The Sherwood Park Crusaders, looking very much like a contender for an Alberta Junior Hockey League title this season after a 5-0 start — will receive a bit of a more accurate assessment of where they truly are with a couple of tougher challenges this weekend at the AJHL Showcase in Camrose — an event which features all of the teams in the league playing in one place over a short span which attracts a bevy of college and pro scouts.

Scouts have already been very aware of the Cru of late, witnessed by more than half the team getting college scholarships last season, the late seventh round drafting of goalie Carter Gylander by the Detroit Red Wings at this summer’s NHL Entry Draft and the fact that Crusaders defenceman Michael Benning and forward Carter Savoie could go much, much higher than that in the 2020 draft.

Arjun Atwal leads the Crusaders and the AJHL in scoring with 13 points (3G, 10A). Photo courtesy Target Photography

All told, especially with the stellar start to the season, it is an exciting time for the Cru to attend the AJH Showcase event, taking on the Drumheller Dragons (1-1-2) on Thursday (past press-time) and the Okotoks Oilers (3-1-0) on Saturday, both games in Camrose.

“Going into the Showcase, it is going to be a big two games for us,” Crusaders head coach Adam Manah said. “We have two very tough opponents in Drumheller and Okotoks. We want guys to show well individually which will make our team game shine through as well. Guys will hopefully get recognized by the scouts and the schools that are there. It is always an important weekend.”

One of the interesting things about the Crusaders this season is that they have scored 28 goals in five games this season, but just four have come from the power play, which has gone a disappointing four for 23 on the year. Two of those power play goals came in their most recent victory, a 4-1 win over Fort McMurray.

“We are not reading too much into it because we really haven’t practiced our special teams yet,” Manah said. “Inside our room, we are not worried about it. We know we are going to get it going once we practice it more.”

Conversely, the Crusaders have been dynamite on the penalty kill, not allowing a single goal against in 21 opposition attempts.

“Our penalty kill has been lights-out to start the year,” Manah said. “I guess we’ll chalk it up to only playing our veterans on the penalty kill because we don’t want to put our young guys in a spot where they are out there and they aren’t sure of our structure. Our veterans know the system from last year and can carry it over. You need good goaltending and guys to block shots and have aggressive pressure, which has been very effective for us so far. Hopefully that will continue.”

The Crusaders have moved up to fifth in the CJHL’s national rankings, after not cracking the top 20 in the first week of the listing.

• In other team news, Cru captain Arjun Atwal has been named the AJHL’s most recent Player of the Week winner.

The 19-year-old centre scored three goals and had seven assists in three victories for the Cru last week.

Atwal leads the Crusaders and the AJHL in scoring with 13 points (3G, 10A).