It’s pretty clear that you have found another special key component when a rookie player with only 19 games under his belt is not only already considered the top contributor at his position, but has also already landed a college commitment at the tender age of 16.
Such is the story behind Sherwood Park Crusaders top prospect Cale Ashcroft.
This past April 1, it was certainly no joke when Ashcroft signed on the dotted line for the 2022-23 season with the University of Denver, a team already pretty darn satisfied with its previous connections with the Crusaders with former Park players Carter Savoie (a promising forward drafted in the fourth round by the Edmonton Oilers last fall), Mike Benning (a defenceman taken in the fourth by the NHL’s Florida Panthers) and blueliner Reid Irwin all currently playing for the U of Denver Pioneers.
Ashcroft shone in the Crusaders’ lengthy training camp and continued to progress during the attempt to play an Alberta Junior Hockey League season that was quickly aborted by the COVID crisis in November and then the return to play pseudo season this spring, combining for two goals and 11 points in 19 games.
His efforts spurred the team to name him not only their top rookie in a league-wide list of standout players, but also the Sherwood squad’s top defenceman despite his youth.
“Cale is an unbelievable kid,” explained Crusaders head coach and GM Adam Manah. “Whether you are talking about his character, his work ethic, the dedication and time commitment that he puts in at the rink and away from it, the results that he got this year speaks for themselves, which includes getting that scholarship from Denver. He had 11 points in 19 games as a 16-year-old on our back end and led our young core of players in points. He is one of the top rookies in the league. He was playing in every situation for us — playing big minutes five-on-five, on the power play, on the PK — we put him in a lot of spots that most 16-year-olds don’t normally see. For him to handle all of that as well as he did speaks to the type of player that he is and how good he was for us this year on our back end. We are pretty excited to see how good he is going to be next year.”
Another player who merited consideration as a top rookie in the league was forward Liam Hughes, who had six goals and nine points this sort-of season.
The AJHL continued to list the top players per team in various categories on Thursday, naming Carson Cherepak as the top goaltender on the Cru.
Cherepak is in his first season with the Crusaders and played in 12 games after joining them from the Winnipeg Wild U-18 AAA program. He finished with a 5-5-2 record along with a 3.02 goals against average and a 0.910 save percentage.
The Crusaders are in the midst of a wave of young talent entering the dressing room as they hope for a quick rebuild.
“We have such a good crop of guys coming, I think you are going to see a big jump the next year and the year after where guys will start jumping off the page,” Manah said.
Things are relatively quiet at the moment, but will heat up on June 1 when roster moves can commence, with Manah hinting he already has some irons in the fire when it comes to the trade front.