Photo credit: Xander Holcomb, Blackfalds Bulldogs
Following their game-four loss in the Drumheller Memorial Arena, the Blackfalds Bulldogs had something close to a mountain to climb in order to advance to round three. Down 3-1 in the series, an 8-2 game five win at the Eagle Builders Centre forced the series back to Drumheller, a building the Bulldogs had yet to find victory in during their five previous attempts this season. A tight 4-3 victory in game six broke that trend, forcing the series’ seventh game at the Eagle Builders Centre Tuesday night. Game seven was the first in the history of both the Bulldogs and the Dragons franchise, giving both teams the opportunity to win their first and advance to the South division final. An appearance in the third round would be the first in the history of the Bulldogs’ franchise, while a Drumheller win would book their ticket for the first time since 2014.
The Dragons were able to generate an early offensive push, keeping possession in the Bulldogs zone for the first couple minutes of the first period, but from there it was all Blackfalds. The Bulldogs outshot Drumheller 10-2 through 20, earning numerous grade-A scoring chances through Tyler Wallace, Alexey Trischuk, and Tyler Teasdale to name a few. Garrett Fuller stood tall in the Drumheller goal for the most part, but Blackfalds managed to take a 1-0 lead out of the first period. A neutral zone draw in front of the Drumheller bench broke kindly for Jason Siedem to work in one-on-two. Siedem made a toe drag to split through the two Dragons defencemen before finishing perfectly over the blocker of Fuller, giving Blackfalds a 1-0 lead.
Drumheller’s offensive efforts bore fruit early in the second period, with Connor Poffenroth bringing the puck into the Blackfalds end and scoring on a fantastic individual effort of his own, fighting his way through multiple Bulldogs defenders and making a move to the backhand around Matthew Hennessey to tie the game up at one. However, it took Blackfalds less than three minutes to retake their lead. Otto Hanson and Kurt Gurkan’s hard work on the forecheck forced a turnover for Kody Willick to find the loose puck in front and fire it past Garrett Fuller and in, giving the Bulldogs a 2-1 lead. Blackfalds would keep control of the majority of the second period and be rewarded with another goal late, with a three-on-two resulting in a Brendan Ross wrist shot being kicked into the slot by Fuller, allowing Tanner Willick to skate onto the rebound and snap it into the back of the net to make it 3-1.
An early penalty to Connor Poffenroth gave Blackfalds a powerplay to start the third period, and it took just seven seconds to get on the board. Jason Siedem took a Tanner Willick pass on the left half wall and threw a pass toward Brendan Ross in the slot. The puck, however, never got to Ross, as it redirected off a Drumheller skate and through Garrett Fuller’s legs to make it 4-1. Siedem was credited with his second of the game and fourth of the series, but Blackfalds’ three-goal lead was short-lived, however, as a successful offensive zone draw for Drumheller gave Caleb Willms the chance to find some space at the top of the circle and snap a perfect shot over Matthew Hennessey’s glove and in to cut the lead down to 4-2. Drumheller kept pushing from there but didn’t find success in their comeback efforts, and with Fuller pulled, Blackfalds struck the final blow into the empty net. A Tyler Teasdale flip pass to centre fell kindly to Siedem, who skated onto the puck and outmuscled his man to force the puck toward and eventually into the back of the net to make it 5-2. Siedem’s hat trick goal wrapped up his first-star honours on the day and Blackfalds’ game-seven victory.
For Drumheller, the loss in the second round was their second in two years, losing in a similar fashion as they did in 2022, falling in the second round on the back of three straight losses. For Blackfalds, the young team continues to make history, as they reach the South division final in just their second season. Blackfalds and Brooks start their series Friday night.