It doesn’t look like offence is going to be an issue.
Fresh off setting a new franchise record for regular season wins during the previous campaign, the Sherwood Park Crusaders are among the favourites to chase an Alberta Junior Hockey League title this year and they came out firing in their first two games of regular season action on the weekend — notching 13 goals.
The Crusaders appeared to be somewhat nervous nellies to start their home and season opener on Friday at the Sherwood Park Arena in front of a very encouraging crowd of 1,382, allowing themselves to get into an offensive slugfest with the Lloydminster Bobcats before emerging with a 7-5 victory.
“We played a pretty good game overall,” said Crusaders head coach Adam Manah. “We put 51 shots up on the board and really controlled the play for the most part. We were very nervous to start the game, though. I don’t know if that was it being the home-opener and Game 1 of the season or if it was because we had a fantastic crowd. We had to settle the guys down with an early timeout when we were down 2-1 early, but after that we handled the game really well and took the play to them. The Bobcats were just very opportunistic. They scored on all five of the chances that we gave them. But for the most part we liked how we played in that game.”
Will Zapernick led the way for the Crusaders with two goals and an assist. Also finding the back of the net were Brett Wieschorster, Jarred White, Carter Savoie, Nick Magis and Connor Hart.
The first game was merely a win.
The second, played Saturday to complete the home-and-home with the Bobcats in Lloydminster, was more of a statement.
The Crusaders were in full control in their second outing, winning 6-0.
“That was what our first game probably should have looked like if we hadn’t been so nervous and jittery and trying to do a bit too much,” Manah said. “We played a sound, solid hockey game from beginning to end. It was nice to see that effort and our guys settle down and calm down a little bit and almost play a picture perfect road game. All-in-all, it has been a good start to the year.”
Rookie Kaden Bryant led the way with a pair of goals — the other tallies coming from White, Ty Mueller, Jacob Franczak and Bryce Bader.
Picking up the shutout in net was backup goalie Jordan Frey, an off-season acquisition from Saskatchewan who only needed to make 15 saves to do so. That’s a far cry from the 40 to 50 shots he was seeing on a regular basis in the SJHL, and a nice confidence booster to start, knowing he has a bit more support in his new locale.
“It was a good start for him,” Manah said. “He didn’t see a lot of shots, which was credit to the guys in front of him playing well defensively. Anything he was tested with, he looked solid and calm and poised taking care of. It was probably a bit of a change for him after seeing 45 to 50 shots a game to seeing just 15. I’m sure he’ll take a little breathing time back there any day.”
With the start of the season, the Crusaders named their leadership group, naming veteran fourth-year forward Arjun Atwal as team captain.
“I’m very happy to be named captain,” Atwal said. “Something I pride myself on is leading by example and I’m honoured that they selected me.”
“Everybody we talk to knows he is our captain,” Manah added. “The way he handles himself day in and day out, he is a real pro. He comes to the rink two hours early and stays two hours after. He has won our most dedicated player award the last two years in a row. He is everything you want in a captain. Guys really look up to the way he plays and a lot of people who come watch us say he is our engine out there. He gets everybody going out there with how hard he competes and his work ethic, let alone his skill level, which makes him one of the best in our league. We are extremely happy to make him our captain and feel we have a great leadership group behind him as well.”
Rounding out the club’s leadership group as assistant captains are William Zapernick, Jarred White, Jacob Franzcak, Carter Savoie and Michael Benning.
The Crusaders remain on the road with a game in Drumheller on Tuesday before returning home for a pair of games at the Sherwood Park Arena this weekend. They will face the Whitecourt Wolverines on Friday at 7 p.m., followed by the Fort McMurray Oil Barons on Saturday at 7 p.m.