Photo credit: Xander Holcomb, Blackfalds Bulldogs
The Blackfalds Bulldogs went into Okotoks Saturday fully aware of the gravity of the occasion; a win and they go within two points of the Oilers for second in the south, with a game in hand. A loss, however, and they go six points back of Okotoks, and risk the Drumheller Dragons catching them in points for third place in the division.
The first two periods of the game played out in vastly opposing ways, but ultimately yielded the same result. The first period was largely controlled by the Bulldogs, keeping control of the play save for a couple of Oilers chances, and they scored the only goal of the period at the 12:20 mark. Brett Meerman entered the Okotoks zone down the left-hand side and was upended as he tried to make a play. From his backside, Meerman sent a perfect backhand pass to Carter Patterson who was flying into the offensive zone. Patterson took the pass and beat Parker Sawka low glove to make it 1-0. In contrast to a first period that saw the Bulldogs double up the Oilers in shots on goal, Okotoks controlled the majority of the second period, outshooting Blackfalds by a 14-5 margin. Despite that, Jason Siedem scored the only goal of the second period for Blackfalds, finishing off a shorthanded breakaway through the legs of Sawka to make it 2-0 late in the second.
The Bulldogs controlled the early part of the third period and took six and a half minutes to be rewarded. A perfectly executed three-on-three for Blackfalds saw the puck move from Otto Hanson to Jack Plandowski, and eventually cross-ice to Kody Willick, who broke in on goal and beat Parker Sawka with a low backhand shot to make it 3-0. The Oilers, however, found a way to make it 3-1 just 12 seconds after Willick’s goal. A turnover at the top of the Bulldogs zone led to Brett Huxley and AP Gavin Garland breaking in on a two-on-one, and Huxley’s pass allowed Garland to tap home his second of the season to make it close. The next goal wasn’t nearly as fast as the last, but it still took under 90 seconds after the 3-1 goal for the Okotoks Oilers to make it a one-goal game. Huxley, again, was the creator, firing a low shot from the point, with Garland again scoring, this time on a deflection, tipping the puck through Matthew Hennessey’s legs. Now at 3-2, the Oilers had all of the momentum and tied the game with just over three minutes to go. Conyr Hellyer took a pass in front from Sam Huck and beat Hennessey to make it 3-3, and quickly thereafter, Nolan Flint slotted home a rebound in front to make it 4-3 Okotoks. A late chance from Jayden Joly drew a save from Parker Sawka, and with that, the regulation win for the Oilers was complete.
Blackfalds fell to 0-2-0 over the weekend, falling six points back of the Oilers in the second, and seeing the Dragons catch them in points. After three weeks of 2023 that saw the Bulldogs lose once, the final weekend of January has put the Bulldogs in a position where a home-heavy month of February would be extremely crucial in the Bulldogs’ efforts to finish in the best position possible. The silver lining to the weekend was that the Bulldogs, thanks to results elsewhere, have officially clinched a playoff spot.