Crusaders goalie records first AJHL shutout

Title: Crusaders goalie records first AJHL shutout
Date: December 9, 2012
Original Source: The Edmonton Journal
Synopsis: I am doing a short internship over the holidays at The Edmonton Journal. My latest piece was a feature on the AJHL’s Sherwood Park Crusaders. This article appeared in the Dec. 10 edition of the Edmonton Journal.

EDMONTON – It took Matt Tomkins 52 games and countless near misses to do it, but he has his first Alberta Junior Hockey League shutout under his belt after the Sherwood Park Crusaders beat the Grande Prairie Storm 3-0 on Saturday night.

For Tomkins, a seventh-round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2012, it’s an affirmation of his hard work and strong play to finally put up the zero. More importantly for the team is that they were able to walk out of Canada Games Arena with an authoritative win, something almost no team does these days.

The Storm had only lost one home game all season entering the weekend, and the Crusaders managed to split the series while very nearly getting more than two points.

“We knew it would be a battle,” said Crusaders head coach and general manager Tim Fragle. “It’s disappointing because Friday we were right there and almost forced overtime. But we responded with a really good effort Saturday.”

Trailing 1-0 late in Friday’s game, Fragle pulled the goalie to try to tie the game, but Ryan Matthews found the empty net to seal the contest at 2-0. The Crusaders bounced back on Saturday, thanks to Tomkins’ 29-save shutout and a pair of goals from Andrew Taverner, including an unassisted short-handed goal in the third period.

“We went through a skid for a bit there,” said Taverner. “But we’ve really picked things up and turned things around.”

Sherwood Park improved to 16-13-4 with the weekend split, good for 36 points and sixth place in the AJHL’s North Division. Their place in the standings doesn’t tell the whole story, though, as the North Division is very tightly contested.

The Crusaders are only one point up on the seventh-place Fort McMurray Oil Barons and just one point behind the fourth-place Drayton Valley Thunder. In fact, despite sitting in sixth the Crusaders are just six points out of second place, where the Storm currently sit. The tight division makes every game of crucial importance and means a team could slide up and down the rankings quickly.

“We play a lot of head to heads,” said Fragle. “So it’s really all in our hands.”

Fragle has had his hands full so far this season and it’s not just because the team has played 33 games in 64 days. The team is made up of several different player types, with players being pulled in all different directions.

There are high school students with studies to worry about and players with NCAA Division I commitments to make. Taverner, Marshall Donald and Sean MacTavish have suited up in the CJHL prospects game and Josh Healey played for Team West Canada in the World Junior A Challenge. The team’s leading scorer, Garth Wallin, has even participated in Red Bull Crashed Ice in his spare time.

“We have a really good room,” said Fragle. “We put a huge emphasis on team chemistry. So those guys that are in there with the extra opportunities, they’re also excellent teammates.”

Taverner and Donald may have more to distract them than most, as both were recently listed as potential fourth- to seventh-round draft picks, per the NHL Central Scouting Preliminary Rankings. It’s impressive that the teenagers can keep a cool head in the face of such lofty potential.

“The most important thing is making sure I keep working hard,” said Taverner. “I can’t look past what got me here. And the further you go with your team, the further you go as an individual.”

And the Crusaders have the potential to go far. Their record hides the fact that Tomkins missed significant time with an injury, and ignores the reality that they’ve had their top players pulled all over the place with extra commitments. With everyone back in the fold, the Crusaders are ready for a second-half push.

“We’ve been a victim of our own success, really,” said Fragle. “But I’ll use the term full deck of cards now. We’ve had injuries and call-ups, but we’ve got a full deck of cards now.”

The Crusaders will need all guns firing in the next two weeks. The team has four games before the Christmas break, with three of them coming against teams ahead of them in the North Division standings.

 

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