Crusaders crowned playoff champs
St. Albert wins Northern Alberta Midget AA Hockey League playoff final in Peace River
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Wednesday, Apr 09, 2014 06:00 am
The St. Albert Crusaders completed a season of superiority with their 50th win as the Northern Alberta Midget AA Hockey League champions.
Saturday in Peace River the Crusaders crowned the hometown Royals 8-2 in the fifth and deciding game in the playoff final to become the first St. Albert team to hoist the Fountain Tire Cup in NAMHL’s four-year history.
“We had good success. I know it sounds cliché but it was a total team effort. It was a great group of athletes that are very committed. The coaching group was good and so was the parent group. If those three things are in line you’re going to have success,” said Ron Laird, head coach of the 50-10-6 Crusaders.
“Overall we played well as a team. We had a lot of different components, with different players with different abilities that together really made a great team.”
Visit www.stalbertgazette.com to view the team’s championship trophy pictures.
Out of 29 teams in league play the Crusaders finished tied for second with the St. Albert Blues in points (50) as the top finisher in the Clean Harbors division at 22-4-6.
In the playoffs the Crusaders pulled off the upset of the season by knocking off the unbeaten KC Colts (28-0-4 in the Inside Edge division) in the best-of-three semifinal after dropping the opening game 5-1.
“It definitely gave the team a boost and although we hadn’t won anything yet it gave us the opportunity to play for the championship,” Laird said. “It was one of the highlights of the year given the nature of KC’s record and the rivalry that exists there so it was a pretty sweet win for sure.”
After giving up three power play goals to KC in the first game the Crusaders killed off every penalty in wins of 2-1 and 6-1.
Trailing by a goal in game two, Elias Chaulk tied it at 4:11 and Cam Mazur potted the winner at 10:05.
“You could never count them out so to come back in game two was probably one of the highlights of the year as far as just really being able to bear down and ultimately win the game,” Laird said.
In game three the Crusaders capitalized three times on the power play while building period leads of 3-1 and 6-1.
The NAMHL’s top three playoff scorers – captain Matt Havens (nine goals, 33 points), Curtis Peck (13 goals, 27 points) and Mazur (10 goals, 23 points) – combined for four goals and five assists in the win, as all three players cashed in power play opportunities.
“We thought it would be interesting to see how they reacted to a loss,” Laird said of the KC squad. “Although they had a fantastic season they didn’t face a lot of adversity and so that might have come at a bad time for them I think. They struggled a little bit at provincials as well. I’m not trying to be critical but just objectively I don’t think they reacted well to the loss.
“We really took it to them in game three to win that series.”
After the series the Crusaders also beat KC 6-1 at provincials in Wainwright on the same day they downed the Royals 7-4.
The Crusaders failed to advance to the semifinals with a 2-2 record. KC finished 1-3 and the Royals were 1-2-1.
“I’m extremely happy with day one. I thought that would be the tougher day of the tournament with the tougher teams we were facing,” Laird said. “I don’t want to make excuses but it was tough schedule for us and you could see the guys were just running out of gas as the tournament wound down. All we needed was one more point to make it to the semis and we just couldn't find it.
“We expected to make it to the semis and we didn’t so obviously it put more focus on winning the championship even more.”
The tournament allowed the coaching staff to scout the Royals and identify their power play, breakout and forecheck systems.
“It gave us a bit of a heads up that they weren’t going to be an easy team to beat. They played a good team game, they played a full 60 minutes and are well coached. They were definitely a worthy opponent,” Laird said.
The next weekend after provincials the first three games of the final were played in St. Albert. The Royals took game one 4-1 and the Crusaders responded with wins of 7-3 and 4-2.
Friday in game four at Peace River the Crusaders fell behind 2-0 in the first and in the second the Royals scored with one tick on the clock to knot it at three.
In the third and the Crusaders up 5-4 the Royals notched the equalizer with 3:44 left in regulation time and the winner with 1:35 to play.
Peck tallied twice and Mazur, Riley Smith and Mitchell Walters notched singles. Three of the team’s five goals came on the power play.
Havens racked up four assists and Mazur added two helpers. Shots were 40-37 for the Crusaders and Emerson Eady was in net.
“It was an emotional loss,” Laird said. “There was certainly no panic for us as far as playing game five but definitely there was disappointment when we thought that we had (game four) and let it slip away.”
In game five the Royals scored first on the power play and Mazur and Havens answered before the period ended.
In the second the Crusaders broke it open with five unanswered goals. Smith sniped his first of two in a row on the power play, followed by Matt Laird’s shorthanded effort, Tyler Mork at even strength and Mazur’s power-play marker with six seconds left in the period.
Ryan Laird rounded out the scoring in the third.
Havens collected four assists for 24 in 11 playoff games.
Connor Mckay and Eady shared net duties as the Crusaders were outshot 44-29.
“Despite the score it was a much closer game than it would appear,” said coach Laird. “In the second period our goaltender (Mckay) was exceptional. They had I believe three power plays in a row when they could’ve turned things around and instead of them making it closer we scored a shorthanded goal to make it 5-1 and then another one (by Mork with 4:25 left in the period) right after the very end of their power play again to make it 6-1 and that pretty much took the wind out of their sails.”