Photo credit: Madison Fox, Renegades Photography
The Blackfalds Bulldogs and Drayton Valley Thunder aren’t the most familiar of foes; as members of opposite divisions, they played only twice last season, with each team earning a victory in their opponent’s arena. With the interlocked schedule, the Bulldogs and the Thunder will see as much of each other as they will anyone else, and it was in Blackfalds’ 2023-24 home opener that the two teams embarked on their first of four meetings this season.
A very evenly-matched first period saw Drayton Valley emerge with the lead through 20 minutes, and their scoring started less than 100 seconds in. Jace Moffat’s pin-point pass sprung Kyiv, Ukraine product Anton Yatsyshin on a breakaway, who made an excellent move to the forehand and slipped the puck through the legs of Ethan Morrow to make it 1-0. Blackfalds responded quickly, thanks to strong forechecking from the top line. Layne Loomer’s dump-in sat behind the Thunder net, where Drayton Valley’s Cameron Doucette left his crease to play it. Brendan Ross and Eddie Moskowitz quickly closed Doucette’s passing lanes, and Moskowitz’s steal and feed set up Ross at the side of the net to slip home his first goal of the season. Blackfalds, however, couldn’t get to the break level, as a power play ended up helping the Thunder breakthrough. A give-and-go between former Bulldog Alexey Trischuk and Will Christian set Trischuk up for a clean look on goal from the top of the slot. Trischuk’s shot eluded Morrow’s outstretched glove and gave the Thunder their lead back.
The Bulldogs’ start to the second period was even quicker than Drayton Valley’s start to the first, with Brendan Ross taking just 67 seconds to snap a power play goal past Cameron Doucette’s glove to knot things up 2-2. That lasted less than seven minutes, however, with Dryden Tomkow’s solo rush and rising wrist shot giving the Thunder their third lead of the hockey game. A pair of penalties was Drayton Valley’s undoing this time, with Jaxon Martin and Cooper Brown each sitting two and giving the Bulldogs an elongated five-on-three. Brendan Ross’ patient puck possession in the offensive zone eventually opened up a lane to Layne Loomer in the slot who pounded his one-timer through Doucette and in to make it 3-3. Blackfalds kept their door on the gas, and under three minutes after their third goal, they’d get their fourth. A broken play in the neutral zone eventually resulted in a three-on-two for the Bulldogs. Jack Plandowski’s cross-ice pass was left by Kody Willick to allow Josh Sale to expertly catch-and-release the puck and sling his wrist shot past Doucette to give him his first AJHL goal and Blackfalds their first lead of the night.
Blackfalds’ second period set the stage for victory, with the Bulldogs outshooting the Thunder 21-3 in the middle frame. Blackfalds shut down the Thunder in the third, not allowing Drayton Valley to get many scoring chances. Brendan Ross eventually found the empty net to complete his hat trick, with the Bulldogs sealing a 5-3 win. Blackfalds’ 2-0-0 start is already their best start to a season in franchise history. The Bulldogs’ next game is Tuesday night against the Drumheller Dragons in a rematch of the 2023 South Division semi-final that went seven games in dramatic fashion.