Photo credit: Xander Holcomb, Blackfalds Bulldogs
Article: Aidan Serra
The Blackfalds Bulldogs and Drumheller Dragons were touted to have an epic, high-event, high-intensity series, with one thing generally agreed upon; this was going to be a long one. After four games, that prospect looked, at best, to be in jeopardy. Drumheller’s second consecutive 5-3 win had given them a 3-1 series lead. While Blackfalds’ home record against Drumheller, in the playoffs, and this season as a whole inspired some confidence that, even with noted lineup absentees, the Bulldogs would be able to fight back and win game five. They did so, emphatically at that, lighting up the Dragons for eight in an 8-2 blowout win.
However, approaching game six brought on a different mindset with different expectations. In the Drumheller Memorial Arena this season, Blackfalds had a far from a sparkling record; in the regular season, they earned one of a possible six points, losing 5-4 in a shootout. That game was sandwiched between a 6-3 loss early in the season and a 7-3 loss late in the season. That trend continued into the playoffs, with Drumheller’s back-to-back wins on home ice in games three and four combined with their split in the opening two games in Blackfalds meaning the Bulldogs, even with the game five win, needed to do what they had been unable to do all season; win a game in Drumheller. In fact, Blackfalds as a franchise had an unflattering 1-6-1 record since the start of their inaugural 2021-22 season. For the Bulldogs to stay alive, they’d need to break a six-game skid in Drumheller, dating back to February 19, 2022.
Two things had remained a constant throughout the first five games of the series; first, Blackfalds had outshot Drumheller in every single game. It was evident, at least after 20 minutes that wouldn’t be the case again, as Drumheller managed to outshoot the Bulldogs 17-6. The other constant, however, favoured the Bulldogs in this game, as in each of the first five games, the team who scored the first goal had gone on to win. In contrast to each of the first two games in Drumheller, Blackfalds struck the first goal less than seven minutes into the first period, with Brendan Ross deflecting home a Jason Siedem point shot, giving Ross his third goal in two games and Blackfalds a 1-0 lead. The Bulldogs continued on in the first, with a smart play in the defensive zone by Jack Plandowski sending Otto Hanson and Kody Willick away on a two-on-one. Hanson held, shot, and scored past Garrett Fuller’s glove to make it 2-0 Blackfalds less than three-quarters of the way through the first period. Drumheller fought back late in the period, finding a goal in front of the net from captain Sam Simard. Simard’s goal was his first of the series, winning a battle in front and tipping the puck behind Matthew Hennessey and in.
The second period was largely a neutral zone battle, with the two teams combining for just ten shots. Drumheller ended up scoring the only goal, with Ty Daneault finding Vann Yuhas with a pass toward the slot. Yuhas in one quick motion managed to take the pass and quickly fire it through the five-hole of Matthew Hennessey to tie the game at 2-2. Late in the second, Brendan Ross and Easton Adrian both went off the ice thanks to an Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty each, making the last 1:17 of the second four-on-four hockey.
The four-on-four continued into the start of the third period, and Blackfalds took advantage of the extra space on the ice. Tyler Wallace found Brett Meerman breaking into the offensive zone, who cut middle and dropped it off for David Brandes. Brandes moved into space and tested Fuller glove side, who denied him, but let out the rebound in front for Meerman to fire into the back of the net to make it 3-2 Blackfalds. Less than two minutes later, Jack Plandowski stole the puck in the neutral zone and excellerated into space in the Drumheller end, creating a two-on-one with Meerman. Plandowski looked off Meerman and took the shot himself, beating Fuller under the glove to make it 4-2. Drumheller, however, responded quickly, taking 47 seconds after Plandowski’s goal to get back within one. A weird bounce behind the net gave Sam Simard the puck, finding Ty Whitford in front to beat Matthew Hennessey past the blocker to make it 4-3. Blackfalds held on, and Hennessey’s strong play gave him the win with 28 saves on 31 shots. The eventual game-winning goal and a big first period assist gave Bulldogs rookie Plandowski first-star honours. The two teams will play the only game seven so far this season and the first game seven in Bulldogs franchise history Tuesday night at the Eagle Builders Centre.