If there was any rust clogging up the Crusaders after a lengthy lull in the schedule, it certainly wasn’t evident on Friday as they took the bloom off of Camrose.
The Sherwood Park Crusaders continued their assault on the Alberta Junior Hockey League this season on Friday night — playing just their second game in a 12-day span — as they improved to a staggering 25-2-0 with a 6-1 assault over the Camrose Kodiaks (11-13-3) on Friday night at the Sherwood Park Arena.
Several players had multi-point performances in the contest, which saw the Cru outshoot the Kodiaks 40-14.
Captain Arjun Atwal led the way with a goal and three assists, followed by a goal and two assists from both Carter Savoie and Michael Benning and a three-assist night from blueliner Reid Irwin. The other goals in the evening came from Will Zapernick, Jarred White and Brennan McDonnell.
“It was a very complete effort,” said Crusaders head coach Adam Manah. “I was very happy with the way we played. You couldn’t ask for a better defensive effort, we were really stingy defensively. Offensively, something we struggled with in our last game against Olds was bearing down. We had 54 shots against them and only three goals and an empty netter. Against Camrose, we buried six, which was good to see. We were good on both sides of the puck.”
Manah said it was especially nice to see how his team showed in odd-man situations.
“Special teams, we were lights out,” he said. “We had four power play goals and a short-handed goal. Special teams were a big key.
“I’m feeling really good about our special teams right now. The power play throughout the year, I don’t care what team you are on or who you have for personnel, you are going to have your ups and downs through certain times of the year. In November, with us not playing as much, maybe we have had some trouble getting into a rhythm because it was so sporadic. In this last game, it was good to see them break out and get back to where they were in October. On the penalty kill, the biggest thing that we have is out goaltending clicking for us and guys willing to block shots and sacrifice. Our down-ice pressure has been fantastic, game in and game out. That is really disrupting the ability of other teams to get out of their own end cleanly. We are not having to spend as much time in our own end trying to kill off penalties. All-in-all, special teams have been really good and have been a big factor in why we are where we are so far.”
The game marked the Crusaders debut of forward Jacob Kendall, ironically playing his first game against the team he was acquired from earlier in the week when he came over in a massive trade with the Kodiaks in exchange for forward Brett Wieschorster and future considerations.
Kendall is now in his fourth season in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, having spent all of them with the Kodiaks.
He’s played in 191 games, scoring 129 points (69 goals, 60 assists).
The six-foot-two, 192 pound forward had a career year last season when he recorded 27 goals and 50 points and is looking to eclipse those totals this campaign having 23 points (15 goals, eight assists) in 24 games.
“It was a tough spot for the kid,” Manah said. “He gets traded and has to play two days later against a team for which he has bled their colours the last three-and-a-half years. We thought he did a really good job adjusting and trying to get used to our style of game, even though he didn’t have any points. That is not easy to do. You play one way with Camrose for so long and then have to adjust and play a completely different way. I thought he fit I really well with Atwal and White in the third period when we put them together. He is going to be a really good net-front guy on the power play. You can just see how he is going to be a force with his size and his strength and the things that we got him for. I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes him a few games under his belt before he really feels comfortable out there, but all-in-all it was a good first game for us. He was effective for us.”
The Crusaders actually have a challenging stretch of four games ahead of them, playing the third, fourth and fifth-best teams in the league, and the only two squads that have handed them defeat thus far.
The Sherwood shooters next travel to Bonnyville to face the fifth-place Pontiacs (19-8-2) on Wednesday in advance of a pair of games right on the heels of that contest against the fourth-place Spruce Grove Saints (23-5-2) and another against the third-place Okotoks Oilers (24-4-2) — the only two teams to have been able to put marks in the Crusaders’ loss column.
That degree of difficulty will only likely be compounded as the Cru stand to lose three of their best players to Team Canada West as goalie Carter Gylander and the AJHLs top scorer in forward Savoie and top point-getting defenceman in Benning as they have all made the shortlist for the squad which will compete at the 2019 World Junior A Challenge in Dawson Creek, B.C. starting on Dec. 7.
“It’s going to be a really good challenge for us, the next four games, a good test,” Manah said. “Okotoks and Spruce have been lights-out all year and Bonnyille has been consistent as well. All four of those games are going to be really good measuring sticks for us and if we are missing any of those players, that is only going to make the challenge even tougher. We’ll see how the try-outs go on Monday and Tuesday to see if we are getting any of the three guys back. She is going to be tough.”
AJHL rosters are currently frozen as the league has a Dec. 1 trade deadline that carries through the holiday season.