Photo credit: Tom Grimsdale, Ideal Images Red Deer
The Blackfalds Bulldogs are just about to finish their fifth week of the 2023-24 regular season, and it’s a season that, at this point, you can split into two chapters. The first chapter, quite simply, was the first week of the season. After going 2-4-0 in exhibition play, the Bulldogs split the first four games of the regular season. The worst of those four was a Tuesday, September 19 home game against the Drumheller Dragons, the team who they beat in the second round of the previous season’s playoffs. The Dragons put up five in the first period and nine total to finish a 9-3 win over Blackfalds.
Just shy of one month later, Blackfalds had the Dragons in their sights, awaiting what they hoped would be a bounce-back win.
Going into the two teams’ second Tuesday night clash of the season, Blackfalds’ eight-game winning streak was matched only by Brooks Bandits, who had won eight straight themselves. While Drumheller kept pace with the league leaders for the bulk of the season’s first month, a three-game losing streak saw them fall out of the top three. The chance to bounce back for the Dragons would see them, with a regulation win, match the Bulldogs and Crusaders with 20 points apiece, good enough to put them in a tie for second. A loss in regulation, however, would drop Drumheller to fifth.
Newly-signed Yale Hockey Academy product Nolan Viesner opened the scoring for Drumheller, capitalizing on a rebound in front of the net to notch himself his first AJHL goal and the Dragons a 1-0 lead. An Adam Raesler interference penalty gave the Bulldogs a jolt of momentum, and while the first power play was ultimately unsuccessful, Tanner Willick would score less than three minutes after its conclusion. Driving the net, Willick was stopped initially but followed up his own rebound to tie the game up.
Yet another Adam Raesler penalty gave the Bulldogs their second power play chance, which they took, with Layne Loomer finding Dakota MacIntosh with a cross-ice feed. MacIntosh’s goal gave the Bulldogs a 2-1 lead, but the Bulldogs couldn’t make it into the break on top, as Cyle Clayton’s seeing-eye shot from the right point found its way through traffic to tie things up.
Drumheller took the lead back early in the second period, with Aidan LaRose finding Kai Matthew with a cross-ice pass. Matthew scored, giving Drumheller a 3-2 lead. Layne Loomer capitalized on an opportunistic chance in front of the net, with a bouncing puck finding its way to him in the slot. The Bulldogs’ lead was restored minutes later, with Kody Willick finding a rebound in front of Jameson Kaine’s net and forcing it in behind him to make it 4-3. Yet again, however, Drumheller scored, tying things at four thanks to an Adam Raesler wrist shot that found its way through traffic and in.
Blackfalds kept their foot on the gas to finish off the second period and were rewarded twice, with the fourth line scoring their second goal of the game first. Kody Willick’s strong forecheck freed the puck up to Ryan Shaw, who found Josh Knittig in the low slot. Knittig’s expert finish beat Kaine over the glove, making it 5-4 with Knittig slotting home his second of the season. On a late power play chance, more Tanner Willick magic gave Blackfalds the game’s first two-goal lead. Willick danced his way into the slot on the man advantage before slipping a pass to his right. Eddie Moskowitz zipped it home, notching himself his sixth goal of the season and Blackfalds the 6-4 lead.
The Bulldogs held on to the lead for the bulk of the third, but with the goaltender pulled, Drumheller made good on their extra attacker, with Vann Yuhas’ long wrist shot finding its way to the net where Aiden Connell deflected it past Ethan Morrow and in to make it 6-5. With 2:31 to go, Drumheller pulled their goaltender again, but this time wasn’t the team to capitalize, with an excellent neutral zone effort from Alexander Dimitriadis finding Dakota MacIntosh in some space cross-ice. MacIntosh fired home, making it 7-5 and giving the Bulldogs their ninth straight win.
Blackfalds has an away and home game on the weekend, with their first visit to Camrose and clash with the Kodiaks going Friday night. Following that, they return to the Eagle Builders Centre, setting up their first regular season game this year against the Spruce Grove Saints.