Photo credit: Xander Holcomb, Renegades Photography
The Blackfalds Bulldogs, now well into the third season of their franchise, had beaten every AJHL team through their first two years, save for the Spruce Grove Saints. Saturday, October 21 seemed like it could potentially be the Bulldogs’ best chance yet, going into their fifteenth game of the season having won ten straight and seven of eight on home ice throughout the season.
Blackfalds controlled the bulk of the first period, with their consistent puck pressure eventually reaping a reward, with Otto Hanson stealing a puck deep in the Spruce Grove zone before finding Hunter Brown streaking to a scoring area. Brown’s first shot was denied by Beckett Langkow, but Brown followed in to bury the rebound and make it 1-0. An 11-6 shots on goal margin was indicative of Blackfalds’ control, but a strong first period from Langkow kept the score close.
The Bulldogs continued their effort and fast-paced play into the second period, and much like their goal in the first period, an intense forecheck forced a turnover, with Connor Dick capitalizing on an errant pass to snap a shot toward goal. Langkow denied Dick’s shot and Ross’ initial rebound but the puck in the crease was eventually dispatched home by Dakota MacIntosh. Blackfalds’ 2-0 goal was MacIntosh’s league-leading fifteenth on the year, extending his point streak to nine games and his goal streak to six straight.
Blackfalds’ Otto Hanson followed up his assist in the first period with a goal in the second, starting the play with a cross-ice pass to Kody Willick off the rush. Willick was denied but Hanson’s net drive gave him first crack at the rebound, finding the back of the net to give the sophomore centreman his fourth point in four games since his return from injury. Despite numerous second-period power play chances to further extend their lead, Spruce Grove’s high-flying penalty kill not only stifled the Bulldogs’ man advantage but struck a goal back to make it 3-1. Stephen Kirkpatrick led the breakout, jumping on a loose puck at centre before a pass to Alexander Babich in space in the offensive zone gave Babich the opportunity to snap the shorthanded goal over Ethan Morrow’s glove.
Blackfalds, however, kept their foot firmly planted on the gas and would take less than five minutes to regain their lead. More Blackfalds forechecking forced another turnover, with Ryan Shaw knocking Jed Magarrell’s stretch pass out of the air in the high slot and firing home past Langkow’s glove to make it 4-1 before the end of the second period. Blackfalds’ third period was all about locking down the game defensively. Ethan Morrow’s ten saves on ten shots in the final 20 minutes led the way, and Carter Patterson would hit an empty net with under four minutes left to play, giving the Bulldogs their 5-1 lead.
Blackfalds’ eleventh straight win keeps them in a three-way tie with the Brooks Bandits and Sherwood Park Crusaders for first place in the AJHL standings, with all three teams boasting identical 13-2-0 records. Blackfalds get a week without games before the final weekend of October, a weekend which, including the following Tuesday, boasts three big games. A home clash with Fort McMurray and a trip to Olds highlight Saturday and Sunday respectively, before Halloween night brings the Eagle Builders Centre the biggest game of the season thus far; the first game between the Bulldogs and the Brooks Bandits since game four of their 2023 South Division Final series.