Wheels come off against Pontiacs for third Cru loss

The Sherwood Park Crusaders got off to a good start in Wednesday's game against Bonyville, ut ended up falling 5-4 to drop to 25-3-0 on the season. Photo courtesy Target Photography

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They went into cruise control and ended up getting run over by the Pontiacs.

Missing perhaps their three best players as forward Carter Savoie, defenceman Michael Benning and starting goalie Carter Gylander all made the lineup for Team Canada West at the upcoming World Junior A Challenge tournament (see Page 36), the Sherwood Park Crusaders looked nonetheless no worse for wear as they started their contest in Bonnyville against the Pontiacs on Wednesday night.

The Cru staked a healthy 3-0 lead on goals by Jarred White, Arjun Atwal and Blake Sydlowski, but ended up allowing four goals in the remainder of a hectic second period against one of their own by Reid Irwin to head into the third knotted up at 3-3.

It tightened up in the third, with the only goal coming with about five minutes left as Bonnyville gave the Crusaders just their third loss of the season, emerging with a 5-4 victory on home ice.

“We got off to a great start, one of the best we have had playing in Bonnyville in a long time,” said Crusaders head coach Adam Manah. “We jumped out to a 2-0 lead after the first and things were going fine. The start to the second was just OK. We were fortunate to go up 3-0, but then the wheels just fell off. We were sloppy with turnovers, swinging away from pucks, not finishing checks and it burnt us. Even when it looked like we would take the lead into the third, we gave back a goal late in the final minute on another turnover and full possession of the puck. Those are errors we just can’t make in that rink. We basically handed them back the game after we were in full control of the hockey game. The second period was the turning point of the night. We played a decent third period, but they capitalized on their one opportunity of the period and that decided it.”

The loss dropped the Crusaders to a still pretty impressive record of 25-3-0, while the Pontiacs improved to 20-8-2.

Despite the loss, Manah felt that the requisite hustle was on display in a follow-me-boys showing from captain Atwal.

“I thought Arjun Atwal led by example tonight and played a really solid game for us,” he said. “Even when they were starting to push in the second, he was consistently vocal on the bench in communicating with guys on what needed to get done. His play backed it up and we are very fortunate that he is our captain.”

It is going to be a very interesting next few games for the Crusaders as they try to navigate their way through one of their toughest stretches of the schedule to date without three of their top guns, including the league’s leading scorer in Savoie, the top point-getting defenceman in Benning and their starting netminder in Gylander.

The next three games are against the only other teams in the Alberta Junior Hockey League to hand them losses this season, those with the power trio in the lineup.

The Crusaders are in Spruce Grove to face the Saints (24-5-2) on Saturday before returning home next Wednesday to face the Okotoks Oilers (24-4-2).

They then host the Saints in a rematch at the Sherwood Park Arena on Friday, Dec. 13.

sjones@postmedia.com

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