Photo credit: Xander Holcomb, Renegades Photography
That’s exactly what was on the line as the Blackfalds Bulldogs and Brooks Bandits entered their Halloween showdown at the Eagle Builders Centre. Brooks came into the game leading the race by a single point, maintaining their position with a 7-3 come-from-behind win in Spruce Grove on Saturday. Blackfalds’ shootout loss on that same Saturday to Fort McMurray saw them drop to three points back, but the Bulldogs were able to bounce back with a win the following Sunday over Olds.
The first 11 minutes of the game against the Bandits was something pulled from the wildest dreams of the Bulldogs. Connor Dick earned both of Blackfalds’ first two grade-A chances, having the first one denied by Bandits goaltender Johnny Hicks before sending the second off the goal post and out. Carter Patterson, however, recovered the puck, before finding the top corner with a seeing-eye wrist shot through traffic. Blackfalds then went to work on the power play, breaking through Brooks’ first-placed penalty kill thanks to a beautiful cross-scene pass from Eddie Moskowitz to give Layne Loomer his chance to fire home and make it 2-0. Blackfalds earned a power play again after Quinn McCall ran over Ethan Morrow, and yet again it was a clever pass from Moskowitz to Loomer to set up the chance. Loomer’s snapshot was deflected through Hicks’ legs by Brendan Ross on the doorstep. Blackfalds’ fourth goal was on a similar play, with Hunter Brown throwing the puck on net from the point. Moskowitz’s deflection was blocked, but he quickly reacted to slide the rebound through Hicks’ legs and in to make it 4-0.
Blackfalds’ lead was quickly carved into by Brooks on their first powerplay, with Mirko Buttazzoni sliding a pass to Ewan McPherson to make it 4-1. Brooks scored again short hereafter, with Quinn McCall following in to finish off a rebound after Logan Sawyer’s initial shot was denied by Ethan Morrow. After cutting the lead down to two heading into the second period, a pair of early Bandits goals would tie the game up. First, Buttazzoni managed to drive the defence back on a Brooks powerplay before finding the trailing Nathan Free, who beat Morrow under the blocker to make it 4-3.
Nathan Free would quickly strike again, with his latest shot beating Ethan Morrow’s glove side from a tight angle. After four goals conceded on 19 Bandits shots, Morrow would leave the crease to former Bandit goaltender Wilson Maxfield. Quickly getting into the game, Maxfield was forced to face grade-A scoring chances from Free, Jordan Hughesman, Danylo Korzhyletskyi, and Ewan McPherson, all of which he kept out of the net. Blackfalds rewarded Maxfield’s strong play and responded to take their lead back, with Dakota MacIntosh and Brendan Ross grinding behind the Brooks net eventually seeing the puck pop out to Layne Loomer in the right circle, and his one-timed snap shot beat Hicks over the glove to make it 5-4. That line was far from done in the second period, with Loomer scoring another to complete his hat trick. One-touch passing down low between Loomer and Ross eventually saw Ross’ cross-ice feed to MacIntosh just elude him. The puck, however, fell kindly to Tanner Willick at the right point, and his long wrist shot hit Loomer on its way into the Brooks net.
Wilson Maxfield continued to be the best player on the ice throughout the third period, keeping his team two goals in front on 17 third-period shots by Brooks. After David Brandes’ long flip pass sprung him on a breakaway, Dakota MacIntosh fired into the empty net, giving him a goal in nine straight games and Blackfalds the 7-4 lead. Much like last season, the Bulldogs get the win in their first regular season game against the Bandits by three goals, with this season’s win giving them a league-best 15-2-1 record through the first month and a half of the regular season. Blackfalds finish October with a 10-0-1 record, earning 21 of a possible 22 points.