Photo credit: Xander Holcomb, Blackfalds Bulldogs
At the conclusion of the regular season, the Blackfalds Bulldogs knew that, if each of the three south division first-round matchups ended with the higher seed prevailing, their second-round opponent would be the Drumheller Dragons. Thanks to Drumheller’s 2-1 game six win on Sunday night, that destiny would prove fulfilled, as the south’s three-seed booked a date with the second-seeded Bulldogs.
Regular season series: Blackfalds 3, Drumheller 3
The two teams’ regular-season results against one another could hardly have been more similar. Each team won once by blowout, once by three goals, and once after the game was tied through sixty minutes. Furthermore, and potentially notably in the context of a playoff series, each team failed to win on the road, with the home team prevailing in each of the six meetings.
The Dragons won the first two games of the season against Blackfalds, winning the first 6-3 back on October 4, in a game that saw numerous lead changes and a notable 54 minutes in penalties between the two teams. Brett Meerman’s three-assist performance in that game was outdone by Dragons forward Dylan Glinski’s two-goal outing. The second of the two came nearly six weeks later, with the Dragons this time needing to go the distance to take care of Blackfalds. A 3-0 Blackfalds lead was undone by a brilliant Ty Daneault performance, as his two goals and three points dragged Drumheller back into the contest. The game went into the shootout tied at four, and in the end, it was Drumheller’s Coy Pighin who scored the only goal of the skills competition to give the Dragons the extra point.
After two games in Drumheller opened the season series, it was the Bulldogs’ turn to host back-to-back matchups between the two, starting first with Blackfalds’ December 4 teddy bear toss game. In sharp contrast to the two previous games in Drumheller, Blackfalds’ first win over the Dragons on the year came in the form of a totally dominated 60-minute performance, with Blackfalds’ 41-16 edge in shots on goal the biggest margin in any game between the two teams all season. After Jason Siedem’s opening goal sent the teddy bears flying early, the Bulldogs carried that momentum forward and Tyler Wallace’s three-point-night helped Blackfalds to a 5-1 win.
Blackfalds and Drumheller’s first game of the 2023 calendar year came on January 17 and proved to be the second between the two decided beyond 60 minutes. After Kurt Gurkan and Noah Danielson traded two goals each in regulation, Tyler Wallace scored just 30 seconds into overtime to give Blackfalds a 3-2 victory. The Dragons, however, didn’t need to wait long to exact revenge, as just ten days later they hosted the Bulldogs in the two teams’ fifth meeting of the season. Down by two through both 20 and 40 minutes, Blackfalds was able to fight back and make it a one-goal game early in the third, through a Brendan Ross goal. However, in the midst of their attacking push, they couldn’t keep the Dragons’ offence at bay, and three more Dragons goals to close out the third gave them a 7-3 win.
Blackfalds and Drumheller’s sixth and final meeting of the season came in Blackfalds’ third-to-last game of the regular season, a game in which the Bulldogs’ win would have clinched them second place in the AJHL south. Matthew Hennessey’s 24-save shutout helped the Bulldogs to the win they needed, with Kasey Hiemstra, Jason Siedem, and Tyler Wallace notching goals in the 3-0 affair. Both teams finished the regular season with 3-2-1 records against one another, with Blackfalds’ 39-18-3 record good enough for 81 points and second in the south. Drumheller’s 33-21-6 record gave them 72 points, one better than the Okotoks Oilers for third in the south. The aforementioned Oilers get the Brooks Bandits in round two, with the winner of that series facing the winner of the Bulldogs and Dragons.
First round: Blackfalds 4, Calgary 1
The second-seeded Bulldogs and seventh-seeded Canucks had the biggest margin in regular season points between them of any first-round AJHL playoff series. As well, Blackfalds managed to win each of the last five meetings between the two in the regular season, after Calgary had won the first, making Blackfalds the heavy favourite.
The Canucks’ first seven minutes of the series indicated they would be anything but an easy out for Blackfalds, with Justin Barker and Daniel Rozsival scoring power-play goals to make it 2-0. However, Blackfalds pushed back hard, and their five unanswered goals by Kasey Hiemstra, Layne Loomer, Brendan Ross, David Brandes, and Tyler Wallace sealed the victory. Game two was a hard one to describe, with the two teams combining for 16 goals and 100 penalty minutes. The first line for Blackfalds combined for 12 points, with four goals and five points from Tyler Wallace leading the way in Blackfalds’ 10-6 win.
The Bulldogs, all season, had more success on home ice than on the road, so game three was always going to be a test for Blackfalds, and it was a test they passed with flying colours in the series’ third game. First-career AJHL playoff goals for Alexey Trischuk, Connor Dick, and Jack Plandowski were helped by Matthew Hennessey making 27 saves on Calgary’s 29 shots in a 6-2 Blackfalds win. Blackfalds faltered in their game 4 chance to sweep the series, with Brett Meerman’s late third-period equalizing goal undone by Connor Frost’s overtime winner, as Calgary won 3-2 in overtime to force a game five.
After their overtime loss in game four, the Bulldogs came into game five focused on not giving the Calgary Canucks any more life, and despite Max Prazma putting in a very solid effort, Tanner Willick’s first-period power-play goal and a pair in the second from Tyler Wallace put the game beyond the Canucks. A late third-period goal from Calgary’s Cale Sanders was rendered a consolation as Brendan Ross put the game to bed into an empty net. Blackfalds’ game five win gave the Bulldogs their first series win in the history of the franchise, booking a round two date with the higher of the bottom two remaining teams after the first round, which of course, would eventually be the Drumheller Dragons.
First round: Drumheller 4, Canmore 2
While Blackfalds went into their first round against Calgary having beaten them in five of their six regular-season meetings, Drumheller’s first round against the Canmore Eagles had to be met with some nerves, as their regular season record against the Eagles was inverse to Blackfalds and Calgary; losing five of their six meetings. Said nerves couldn’t have been settled early in the series when Canmore earned a 4-3 game one win at the Drumheller Memorial Arena. Drumheller also went down 1-0 in game two, but two goals and three points from Ty Daneault helped them eventually earn a 5-1 win and tie the series.
Games three and four in Canmore couldn’t have been any closer, with game three seeing the Dragons erase a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2 in regulation, as third-period goals from Will Christian and Cyle Clayton proved crucial in the victory. Canmore opened the scoring in game four, a theme that dominated the series, with the Eagles scoring the first goal in each of the first five games. As Drumheller did in each of their first three wins of the series, they managed to come back, with Ryan Henderson scoring the equalizing goal that eventually forced overtime. Coy Pighin scored just ten seconds into double overtime to give Drumheller a 3-1 series lead.
The Dragons had the chance to see off Canmore on home ice in game five, and they had a 2-1 lead late in the second period in an effort to do so. However, Vincent Scott tied the game with two seconds left in the second, and Riley Dekowny scored the only goal of the third to give Canmore a 3-2 win and extend the series to six. Coy Pighin scored first in the sixth game, giving Drumheller their first 1-0 lead in the series, but it was this time Canmore’s turn to fight back and force overtime, with a Reed Jacobson second-period goal making it 1-1. Sam Simard, however, played hero, with his overtime goal sending the Dragons to the second round and setting up a Friday night date with Blackfalds for game one.
An extra storyline in the second round no doubt has to be players on both sides facing their former teams. Blackfalds’ Tanner Willick, Kody Willick, and Alexey Trischuk were all Dragons last year, while Kai Matthew and Connor Poffenroth were Bulldogs in the 2021-22 season. The big guns on both teams had great first rounds, with Drumheller’s Ty Danuealt scoring three goals and six points in the six games he played, and Blackfalds’ Tyler Wallace scoring seven goals and ten points in the first round, with him sitting first place in the league in both those categories through one round.
Games one and two go Friday and Saturday nights in Blackfalds, followed by two more guaranteed games, Tuesday night and Wednesday night in Drumheller.