Photo credit: Xander Holcomb, Blackfalds Bulldogs
The Blackfalds Bulldogs and Drumheller Dragons came into Saturday night’s game both already knowing they’ll be starting the AJHL playoffs with home-ice advantage in the first round. Both teams, however, had seedings to play for, as Blackfalds, Okotoks, and Drumheller’s positioning between seeds two and four in the AJHL’s south was still very much to play for. A Blackfalds win and an Okotoks Oilers loss to the Brooks Bandits would mean Blackfalds would clinch second place in the division, meaning they’d have home-ice advantage until the third round.
Drumheller elected to start Red Deer Chiefs U18 goaltender Connor Baumbach for his AJHL debut, and the sixteen-year-old didn’t in any way disappoint, standing on his head throughout the first period. It took Blackfalds nearly 16 minutes to get off the mark but they finally did thanks to help from both the Bulldogs’ fourth line and Tanner Willick, who took an offensive zone pass from Jack Plandowski and patently outwaited the Dragons defence to find Kasey Hiemstra on the doorstep. Hiemstra couldn’t miss, and Blackfalds took a 1-0 lead with what stood as the only goal of the first period.
Blackfalds had two unsuccessful powerplay opportunities in the first period of play, but both powerplay opportunities in the second period for Blackfalds produced what proved to be the last two goals of the game. First, a pass from Tanner Willick found Jason Siedem near the left faceoff circle, and Siedem absolutely bombed a one-time drive through Connor Baumbach and in to make it 2-0. The second Bulldogs goal came from a similar set-up, with Willick finding Siedem for a one-time drive that, this time, was deflected into the goal, with Tyler Wallace getting a stick on the puck on the way to give Wallace his seventh goal in six games and Blackfalds a 3-0 lead.
Connor Baumbach remained solid but was ultimately outplayed by the goaltender at the other end of the ice, with Blackfalds’ Matthew Hennessey making a total of 24 saves through 60 minutes to earn his fourth shutout of the season. Blackfalds’ big guns all extended their superb runs of form, with Jason Siedem extending his point streak to 11 games, with 10 goals and eight assists to show for it in that time. Brett Meerman’s point streak is extended to seven, with 16 points over it, as well as Tyler Wallace and Tanner Willick both adding to their sensational production since the end of January. The win for Blackfalds means they’ll clinch the second spot in the AJHL south, ensuring home ice for both the first and potential second rounds of the AJHL playoffs. Hennessey continues to shine, and the Bulldogs’ sixth straight win helps them improve to a 19-3-0 record since Christmas.