Photo credit: Xander Holcomb, Blackfalds Bulldogs
The Blackfalds Bulldogs’ inaugural playoff run was not one to look back upon fondly, with a first-round sweep at the hands of the Okotoks Oilers the cause of Blackfalds bowing out of the 2022 campaign. This year, Blackfalds goes into their playoff series with Calgary as the statistical favourites; not only were they 5-1-0 against the Canucks in the regular season, but their second-place finish in the south saw them double the seventh-seeded Canucks’ total wins on the year. Calgary won the first game between these two teams in the regular season by a 3-1 scoreline back in November, with Blackfalds winning the last five meetings head-to-head.
The Calgary Canucks struck not once but twice on the powerplay early in the game, with both Justin Barker and Daniel Rozsival scoring early. Kasey Hiemstra struck minutes after Rozsival’s 2-0 goal to cut the lead in half but it was still Calgary that took a lead and some momentum into the break, with powerplay time from a late first-period Bulldogs penalty carrying over into the second. Blackfalds had the slight edge in shots, 13-9, after what were a tightly contested 20 minutes.
The second period started with a bang, as it was Blackfalds’ special teams who would score early, with Tyler Wallace forcing a turnover down low, drawing a good save from Canuck goaltender Max Prazma before Layne Loomer followed up and notched his first career AJHL playoff goal shorthanded to knot things up at 2-2. Blackfalds’ special teams would subsequently produce their first go-ahead goal of the game, with Brendan Ross deflecting home a Jayden Joly pass on the man advantage to help the Bulldogs take a 3-2 lead into the second intermission.
Blackfalds’ second-period dominance culminated in their 20-5 shots on goal edge in the middle frame and their momentum steamed ahead into the third period, with David Brandes scoring sensationally to give the Bulldogs a two-goal advantage. Blackfalds would then seal the deal shorthanded, with Matt Corbet ostensibly handing the Bulldogs a two-on-zero rush with a neutral zone turnover. Jayden Joly’s second point of the night was the assist to Tyler Wallace’s goal, and Blackfalds took the contest by a 5-2 scoreline.
Game two between these teams goes tonight at the Eagle Builders Centre in Blackfalds, with both teams looking to earn what would be a huge victory in the context of the series as a whole. For Calgary, a game two victory would still mean Blackfalds would have to beat them in Calgary to win the series, while the Bulldogs could take a 2-0 stranglehold on the first-round matchup with a second straight win.