Photo credit: Xander Holcomb, Blackfalds Bulldogs
South division rivals Calgary and Blackfalds have five games in just over six weeks, thanks to a schedule that saw them play head-to-head just once in the first half of the season. That game ended in a 3-1 win for the Canucks in a game that began a November in which Blackfalds’ struggles saw them, at one point, fall to fifth in the South. A change of the tide for the Bulldogs now saw Saturday night as an opportunity for the Bulldogs to move into second place in the AJHL’s south division, and actually would result in the Bulldogs and Canucks moving into places in the standings that would, if the season ended and the seeding held, result in a Blackfalds-Calgary first-round playoff series.
Before that could happen, of course, Blackfalds would need to beat the Calgary Canucks for the first time this season, and the efforts to that end didn’t start well for the Bulldogs. Justin Barker took a pass in the neutral zone from Caden Steinke and split the Bulldogs defences before beating Charlie Zolin with a move to the forehand to make it 1-0 just two and a half minutes in. Blackfalds, however, would find a response, with captain Brett Meerman taking a pass in the faceoff circle from Tyler Wallace and snapping a perfect wrist shot over Max Prazma and into the Canucks net. Despite the first period as a whole being largely controlled and even at times dominated by Blackfalds, it was Calgary who managed to come away with a 2-1 lead at the end of the first. A Calgary counter-attack looked like it had ended without a chance when Matt Corbet’s pass deflected behind Daniel Rozsival, but Rozsival managed to quickly regain control of the puck and slide it across for Dylan Bidyk to slot it behind Zolin.
In the same vein as the first 20 minutes, Blackfalds largely controlled the second period, but this time, their efforts were more fruitful. Great work down low from Blackfalds’ top line saw Brett Meerman and Jayden Joly cycle the puck to the front of the net before finding Tyler Wallace with a cross-scene pass that Wallace fired past Max Prazma and in to make it 2-2 just 45 seconds into the second period. A strikingly similar play would result in the go-ahead goal for the Bulldogs, with more offensive zone play resulting in Connor Dick picking up the puck in front of the net and feeding a perfect backhand pass to Brett Meerman at the side of the net for Meerman to slot in Blackfalds’ second goal in just over 90 seconds. The Bulldogs rode the momentum, keeping control of the play and eventually seizing a 4-2 lead, as Evan Mitchell, Jason Siedem, and Brendan Ross’ rush into the offensive zone resulted in Mitchell tucking home the rebound to Ross’ shot to make it 4-2.
In contrast with the first 40 minutes, Blackfalds’ third period was one that was largely controlled by the home team, with the Canucks coming out guns blazing to get back into the contest. Just past the halfway point of the period, Calgary would indeed get back into the game, with Bowden Singleton the beneficiary of a flurry of Canucks chances down low, firing a rebound over Charlie Zolin’s glove to give the Canucks a powerplay marker to make it 4-3. Quickfire goals continued to be a theme of the game, a theme that Blackfalds kept to just 1:13 after Singleton’s goal, with Connor Dick winding his way into the offensive zone, finding some space in the slot, and firing a rocket past the glove of the Canucks’ relief goaltender Spencer Borsos. Calgary, however, would quickly make it 5-4, with Daniel Roszival firing a seeing-eye shot through traffic just three seconds into a Canucks powerplay. After three goals in just two minutes and six seconds, the game remained 5-4 for just over three minutes, but it was Tyler Wallace who would score next, as Canucks defenceman Cole Unger put a tape-to-tape pass on the stick of Wallace who fired the 6-4 goal over Borsos. As had been the case throughout the entire third period, however, the Bulldogs couldn’t relax, as Cale Sanders would find a rebound from a Justin Barker shot in the slot to make it a 6-5 game with under 90 seconds left.
Despite furious Canucks pressure that resulted in 23 shots in the third period alone, the Bulldogs held on to win their fifth straight game and ninth in their last ten. The Bulldogs’ four-point weekend results in them sitting second in the AJHL’s south division, leading the Okotoks Oilers by two points. As big as this weekend was, the next weekend for Blackfalds poses an even bigger opportunity, with games in Drumheller and Okotoks, the two teams directly chasing Blackfalds in the standings. Blackfalds has one more game on the road trip following this weekend, in Calgary on February 3rd, before playing at the Eagle Builders Centre a total of six times to close out the last full calendar month of the regular season.