Photo credit: Xander Holcomb, Renegades Photography
If you had told the Bulldogs they’d earn two points from a back-to-back with the Okotoks Oilers, would they have taken it?
Maybe begrudgingly? Regardless, however, the month of November continues to get more and more grim for the Blackfalds Bulldogs. The 10-0-1 month of October seems now to be ancient history, and the focus moving forward for the Bulldogs seemingly needs to be working their way back to the heights they had previously reached. Losses to Whitecourt and Grande Prairie on the road signified a team who struggled to score, and while seven goals in two games over Okotoks showed an improvement in that category, losing in back-to-back overtimes would still be a frustrating fate for two relatively well-played games.
The Friday night brought Blackfalds’ turn to play host in the back-to-back, and the Bulldogs suffered from a slow start that saw Okotoks earn goals from Jagger Tapper and Ethan O’Halloran sending Okotoks into the first intermission up 2-0. Perhaps one of the most consistent things about this season’s iteration of the Bulldogs has been their lack of quit, and that persisted throughout the game against Okotoks. Early in the second, Alexander Dimitriadis took a drop pass from Hunter Brown and beat Alexander Scheiwiller over the glove to pull the Bulldogs back within one. A pair of quick penalties to the Bulldogs shortly after, however, gave the Oilers an opportunity they’d capitalize on, with Sam Huck scoring a one-timer just as the five-on-three expired to make it 3-1.
Layne Loomer, who had taken the second of the two penalties and sat in the box as Huck scored, was out for the next shift, and immediately made amends. Tanner Willick’s point shot leaked through Scheiwiller, leaving the puck in the crease behind him, and Loomer arrived to poke it home. Blackfalds outshot Okotoks 13-9 in the second, with the bulk of the five-on-five play controlled by the Bulldogs, and pulled within a goal. To start the third, Blackfalds continued to possess the puck in the Okotoks zone, with Brendan Gillmore eventually letting a hopeful shot fly from the line that Jayden Joly tipped through Scheiwiller to make it 3-3.
Joly would take a late tripping penalty with the time carrying over into overtime, and while the Bulldogs managed to kill the penalty to Joly, a suspect call went against Carter Patterson on the next Oilers attack. Okotoks wouldn’t squander this powerplay chance, with Sam Huck’s one-timer beating Ethan Morrow to win the game.
The Oilers’ win in Blackfalds was the first time an Okotoks-Blackfalds matchup went the way of the away side since the 2021 playoffs, and Blackfalds went into Saturday night determined to earn a win in Okotoks. Okotoks’ affiliate forward Brandon De Haas scored early, giving Okotoks a 1-0 lead, before Hunter Brown tied things up on a late first-period powerplay, with Jayden Joly finding him with a sweet cross-ice feed.
Okotoks would take two more leads, first through Sam Hall at the beginning of the second period, then from Brett Huxley at the end of the second. First, Layne Loomer tied things up at two, tipping home a pass from Tanner Willick, then down 3-2, Brendan Ross would tie things up, finding a rebound in the slot after a shot from the point was partially blocked.
Hunter Brown would score less than 90 seconds after Ross to give the Bulldogs their first lead of the game in the third period, notching his second powerplay goal of the game off a rebound in tight. Jagger Tapper, however, found a late equalizer, striking on a two-on-one late to tie things up. Sam Huck would play hero again, scoring 33 seconds into overtime, to cap off what was an incredible weekend for the Oiler forward.
The silver lining for the Bulldogs is simple; during their run of fourteen wins in fifteen games between September 23 and November 4, nine of those fifteen games were played on home ice, while two were played in the AJHL showcase. Between November 5 and December 7, Blackfalds plays on the road eight times, a stretch which includes three separate Northern Alberta road trips. Dating back to last year, the Bulldogs notably performed better on home ice, losing just once at the Eagle Builders Centre between December 17, 2022 and the end of the 2022-23 regular season. This season, the Bulldogs are 11-1-2 at home thus far. The Bulldogs will hope that fighting through their last two Northern road trips will bring prosperity, leaving a difficult run of form firmly in the rear-view mirror.