Nathan Free scores shootout winner as Bandits beat Bulldogs
Photo credit: Xander Holcomb, Blackfalds Bulldogs
For the Blackfalds Bulldogs, their season to date against the Brooks Bandits had featured a stark difference in results in the home and away matchups; two games in Brooks yielded two regulation losses, the first by a 6-2 and the second by a 3-0 margin. Their only previous matchup at the Eagle Builders Centre went Blackfalds’ way, with the Bulldogs winning by a commanding 6-3 margin. Both teams came into the game with a 4-1-0 record in their previous five, with the Bulldogs undefeated in December, winning four straight.
From the second the puck dropped in the first period, it was clear to all how the game was going to go, with both teams bringing a high level of intensity, pace, and desire from the off. Brooks scored first, with 20-year-old Heath Armstrong finding the puck in the neutral zone, beating his man to the outside, and beating Matthew Hennessey with a move to the backhand to make it 1-0. The Bulldogs would fight back hard and manage to turn it around with two goals within a minute, first from Jason Siedem, who took a pretty tip pass from Tyler Wallace in the neutral zone, broke in, and beat Ethan Barwick with a move to the backhand to make it 1-1. Dave Brandes, likewise, would score in a similar vein, engineering a good give-and-go with Kody Willick to find some space behind the Bandits defence and beat Barwick with a backhand shot over the glove to make it 2-1.
Both teams picked up in the second period right where the first period had left off, with a ferocious pace to begin. Both teams generated some grade “A” chances, most notably from Blackfalds’ Dave Brandes, who let a long shot fly past Ethan Barwick, beating him, but hitting the crossbar. Brooks continued their pressure throughout the period, and eventually, it was their league-best powerplay that found them the tying goal. A bit of a Bulldogs miscue defensively opened up space for Hughie Hooker to receive a pass, walk in, and snap a perfect wrist shot over Matthew Hennessey’s glove to make it a 2-2 game. The Bulldogs and Bandits would play the last 25 minutes of the game in a fight, battling each other for every inch on the ice surface. The pendulum of momentum swung Brooks’ way in the third period, but the Bandits couldn’t score a winner. Both teams had many great scoring chances, with Dominick Campione and Jason Siedem both hitting the post late. Blackfalds’ best chance to win it within 60 minutes was a two-minute five-on-three that provided chances but nothing more. In overtime, Brooks had a two-minute four-on-three powerplay that didn’t yield a positive result, and it was actually the Bulldogs with the bulk of the overtime chances, notably two from Brendan Ross and Brett Meerman that either resulted in a miss or a Barwick save.
In the shootout, each of the first five shooters failed to score, but eventually, Penn State commit Nathan Free would score the shootout winner to give Brooks the win. The Bandits finished the game outshooting Blackfalds by a 40-34 margin. Both goalies earned stars, with Hennessey and Barwick making 38 and 32 saves respectively. Blackfalds soldier on in December with three games remaining before Christmas, two at home against Drayton Valley and Grande Prairie on Friday and Saturday before a December 20 game in Spruce Grove.
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