Photo credit: Madison Fox, Renegades Photography
Find a way.
No matter who the opposition is or how the game goes, teams that win championships have a knack for just finding ways to win games. Blackfalds showed that quality numerous times in their second-round series against the Dragons, as while their games five and seven wins were in dominating fashion, their 4-3 victories in games two and six both never looked a certainty, with the Bulldogs doing just that thing; finding a way to win the game. On Saturday night, it was the Bandits who found a way to win game two of the South Division Final.
The game was largely a tale of two parts; the first being the opening twenty minutes of play. Brooks came out of the gates the stronger team and drew the game’s first penalty just under nine minutes into the first period. That powerplay would be capitalized on, with Sam Court finding Aiden Fink in front of the net, giving Fink the time and space he needed to tuck home his fourth goal of the playoffs. Later in the first period, it was the span of just 38 seconds that spelled disaster for Blackfalds. First, Dario Beljo worked his way into the offensive zone, going wide to the left to create a two-on-one. Beljo’s patience was key, waiting until the last second possible before sliding a pass across the crease to an incoming Dominick Campione. Hennessey’s cross-crease push was in vain, as Campione managed to slide the puck just past his pad and in to make it 2-0 Brooks. Quickly after, another Brooks two-on-one gave the Bandits their third goal of the game, with this time Ethan Beyer bringing the puck down the right-hand side and ripping a perfectly-placed shot past Hennessey’s shoulder and in from a tight angle.
After the first period that Brooks controlled, outshot the Bulldogs 14-6, and outscored the Bulldogs 3-0, the start of the second period brought on the second part of this game; the final 40. In the final 40 minutes, the game was close to entirely dominated by the Blackfalds Bulldogs, doubling up the Bandits 22-11 in shots on goal in the last two periods combined. Blackfalds got a step closer just before the midway part of the second period, with Connor Dick showing off his strength and persistence, following up on his initial chance, stripping Aiden Fink of the puck in the Bandits slot, and quickly snapping a shot past Ethan Barwick and in to make it 3-1.
Blackfalds continued the pressure into the third period and an early goal from Kurt Gurkan cut the Bandits lead to one. A Hunter Wallace cross-checking penalty gave Blackfalds a powerplay chance with under 13 to go in the third, but despite numerous grade-A scoring chances, the Bandits killed it off. With 3:14 to go in the third, Brendan Poshak found Heath Armstrong on the doorstep with a pass, allowing Armstrong to top it through the legs of Matthew Hennessey to make it 4-2 late. Blackfalds couldn’t find a way back from there, and despite 40 minutes of Blackfalds domination, it was indeed the Bandits who found a way to win game two. Now down 2-0 in the series, Blackfalds will need to find their own way to win four of the next five games to have the chance to play in the AJHL final.