Photo credit: Xander Holcomb, Blackfalds Bulldogs
Article: Aidan Serra
The Blackfalds Bulldogs’ third of their four 2023-24 Northern road trips came to an end last night. Coming off four straight losses, the Bulldogs needed some points from Fort McMurray and Bonnyville to get back on track.
The oncoming injury problems haven’t done the Bulldogs any favours of late, with Eddie Moskowitz and Tanner Willick joining Nolan DuPont on the IR. Blackfalds’ first game came against the Fort McMurray Oil Barons, the two teams’ second game of the season. The first was in late October, in a game that saw Oil Baron goaltender Gabe Gratton made 57 saves in a 2-1 shootout win. Gratton got the nod to face the Bulldogs again on Tuesday and stood tall again.
Gratton had made 20 saves on 20 shots through two periods of play, and Fort McMurray had made the best on their limited chances, with Carter Schmidt and Ryan Ringor scoring in the first and second periods respectively. Gratton stood tall throughout the third period before the Bulldogs finally broke through with just over four minutes left. David Brandes’ point shot was deflected home by Brendan Ross, giving the Bulldogs a chance. Gratton kept Blackfalds at bay, and the Oil Barons hung on for the victory, winning their second game against the Bulldogs this season, and handing Blackfalds their fifth straight loss.
The Bulldogs last lost five straight games back at the end of the 2021-22 season, losing their last regular season game before being swept in the first round. The silver lining? Their next game was against the Bonnyville Pontiacs, a very capable team, but one whom the Bulldogs had beaten twice already this year by a combined score of 12-4. Joshua Simpson scored in the first period to give Bonnyville the lead, but Blackfalds would equalize before the intermission, with Alexander Dimitriadis stealing the puck in the neutral zone to find his way to the net, finishing on the breakaway to make things 1-1.
The second period was predominantly a physical fight, with both teams struggling to penetrate high-danger scoring areas or generate chances off the rush, a testament, as much as anything, to both teams’ strong defensive play. Blackfalds struck 33 seconds into the third period, when, much like on the first goal, a Bulldogs steal led to a chance, with Hunter Brown hopping on a turnover at the top of the slot, snapping his shot through Bodee Weiss to make it 2-1. The third goal for Blackfalds was in the same vein as the previous two; with Jayden Joly and Alexander Dimitriadis stealing the puck in the neutral zone. Excellent work by Joly gave the Bulldogs a two-on-one, with Dimitriadis forcing it home, nothing his second of the game and closing out Blackfalds’ 3-1 win.
The win for the Bulldogs keeps them within striking distance of Sherwood Park and Brooks in the top two spots, sitting just three points back of the Crusaders for second. Blackfalds hosts two games to close out the month, against two capable opponents; first, they play Spruce Grove, who they beat in their only previous meeting back in October. Three days later, they’ll host Whitecourt, a team whom they’ve played twice, beaten once, and fallen to once. Blackfalds currently have a 3-4-2 record in the month of November, but with two strong games and two victories to close it out, could still find themselves above .500 through their 11 games in the month.