Photo credit: Madison Fox, Renegades Photography
The Blackfalds Bulldogs’ hands were always going to be full in their first South Division Final, with the two-year-old team going up against the Brooks Bandits, winners of four of the last five AJHL championships. Blackfalds and Brooks’ three games previous to Wednesday night were all closely-contested matchups in which the Bandits managed to come away with the upper hand each time. Blackfalds’ game fours in the playoffs have been their bane, losing each of the first two, but it was this game four that was either going to result in Blackfalds’ survival or their elimination.
Blackfalds took just over five minutes to take their first lead of the series, with Jason Siedem entering the zone on the left side, taking a look, and firing a perfect cross-ice pass to the activating Tyler Teasdale who took his pass inside the left circle and snapped a perfect wrist shot over the glove of Ethan Barwick and in to make it 1-0 Blackfalds. The Bandits pushed back and pushed back hard following the Bulldogs goal, and were helped in their venture by back-to-back powerplay opportunities. During the latter of the two, Brooks’ puck movement led to Dario Beljo sending a cross-crease pass to Hunter Wallace arriving at the side of the net, with Wallace slotting home his first goal of the playoffs to tie things up at one.
An early second-period powerplay for Brooks saw them strike again, with the same link-up proving effective, as Dario Beljo again found Hunter Wallace in front of the net, with Wallace again slotting the puck past Matthew Hennessey and in to make it 2-1 Brooks. After a 17-2 shots in goal edge from Brooks in the first period of play, Blackfalds’ second period saw them respond in kind, outshooting the Bandits 12-8, and it was from this pressure they found their equalizer, with Jack Plandowski finding some space moving into the zone and snapping a perfect snap-shot over Ethan Barwick’s shoulder and in.
Blackfalds and Brooks traded scoring chances early in the third period, but in the end, it was yet another Brooks Bandits powerplay that struck, with this time Aiden Fink taking a pass from Sam Court on the right side of the ice, walking into space in the right circle and ripping a wrist shot over Matthew Hennessey and in to make it 3-2 Brooks with just seven minutes to go. Hunter Wallace would complete his hat trick into the empty net with under 90 seconds on the clock.
Brooks held on to win 4-2, advancing to the AJHL final yet again, where they will either face a familiar foe in the Spruce Grove Saints or the Bonnyville Pontiacs. Blackfalds’ second season ends in semi-final defeat, losing in four to the Bandits.