Photo credit: Xander Holcomb, Blackfalds Bulldogs
A 4-0 Friday night win for the Blackfalds Bulldogs put them two points up on the Okotoks Oilers for second place in the South division, but Blackfalds couldn’t be comfortable in that position with the second half of a back-to-back to be played in Okotoks Saturday night. Matthew Hennessey and Parker Sawka reprised their roles as the two starting goaltenders, as both teams geared up to do battle again, each with an alluring prospect ahead of them; for the Oilers, a win would tie them in points with Blackfalds with two games in hand, and for the Bulldogs, four points clear of the Oilers would put some distance between them and the rest in the south.
Matthew Hennesey’s shutout streak would be snapped at 132 minutes and 26 seconds, with Jackson Rowland giving the Okotoks Oilers a 1-0 lead. Rowland took a backhand shot toward the goal from a tight angle that deflected off Evan Mitchell’s stick, looped up over Hennessey, and into the back of the net. Okotoks did a good job to retain control of the game into the second period and managed to open up a three-goal advantage through forty. First, a sharp angle shot from Zeth Kindrachuk beat Hennessey short-side to double the lead, then Sam Huck found a loose puck in the slot and fired home his twelfth goal of the year to make it 3-0.
Blackfalds went into the third period knowing something was going to have to change in a significant way for them to get back into the contest; Okotoks not only held a 3-0 lead through two periods but had outshot the Bulldogs by an 18-10 margin. The Bulldogs came out firing in the third and managed to cut the Oilers lead to two early, with Connor Dick beating Parker Sawka on the glove side with a wrist shot that has become his bread and butter. Blackfalds continued the pressure, controlling the play for the bulk of if not the entirety of the third period, and their pressure would eventually reap another reward. Tyler Wallace brought the puck into the offensive zone and managed to maneuver his way through two Oilers defenders before beating Sawka with a deke to the backhand to make it a one-goal game. Relentless pressure from Blackfalds in the last five minutes would, in the end, not yield an equalizing goal, and the comeback would come up agonizingly short.
The Oilers’ 3-2 victory means that the Bulldogs and Oilers will go level on 49 points apiece, tied for second place in the South standings. Two fewer games played for the Oilers gives them an edge, as they continue their January with a Wednesday night matchup with the Eagles in Canmore, before a weekend back-to-back that sees them play the Olds Grizzlys and the Brooks Bandits. The Bulldogs have most of the week to reflect before they embark on a Northern road trip next weekend, first in Whitecourt on Friday, then in Grande Prairie come Saturday. Their next home game is their final in the month, on Tuesday the seventeenth against the Drumheller Dragons.