Brantford Bulldogs moved into third place in the East Division after a pair of road wins on Friday, November 17 and Saturday, November 18, 2023.
Brantford travelled to Ottawa to battle the 67’s and the Bulldogs had the opening jump on Friday night with a makeshift forward group showing quick chemistry cycling the puck at will in the Ottawa end. The hard work had its exclamation point at 4:36 as Marek Vanacker and Jake O’Brien combined to force the puck to the front of Max Donoso’s net. After O’Brien’s initial jam shot was denied, Florian Xhekaj was on the scene to push the puck past the 67s netminder, staking the Bulldogs out to a 1-0 lead. The 67s found their legs as the period went along, eventually throwing 12 shots to Matteo Drobac’s goal. Ottawa captured the equalizer at 7:40, after Drobac’s initial pad save hopped out to Cooper Foster who was able to bat it past the Bulldogs starter to tie the game 1-1. Marek Vanacker shortly after earned a breakaway chance on Donoso utilizing his blinding speed, trying to flip the puck over Donoso’s blocker with the 67s goaltender just managing to knock the attempt aside. Drobac wouldn’t be outduelled in the first period as the 67s drove the Bulldogs goal with Luca Pinelli’s first shot being turned aside with Drobac hitting the splits, the Dogs goaltender extended his toe as far as it would go to deny Cooper Foster a second of the night in spectacular fashion, sending the game to the locker room tied up 1-1.
The story of the second period could simply be summed up as Matteo Drobac. With the Bulldogs needing to kill a pair of penalties in the frame, Drobac was incredible. Turning aside all 13 he faced, none were finer than his 2-on-1 save late in the period. With Luca Pinelli hitting a burst on the left wing, he floated the puck middle to Brad Gardiner who cut across the net front attempting to tuck the puck past Drobac’s pad. Drobac split across the net making an absolutely brilliant right pad save that brought the Ottawa crowd to its feet in appreciation. The Bulldogs captured the lead once again in the middle frame with Tomas Hamara off the right boards feeding Cole Brown at the blueline who whipped a shot to the front of the net that Florian Xhekaj tipped past Max Donoso for his second of the game, giving the Bulldogs a 2-1 lead through 40 minutes.
The final 20 minutes was a brilliant defensive effort from the Bulldogs, holding the 67s to a mere 7 shots at Matteo Drobac’s goal while they were chasing the one goal defecit. Drobac turned aside all seven shots, with his finest coming just past the halfway mark as Kaleb Lawrence worked his way from the blueline through the slot for a drive that Drobac turned aside. Making 31 saves in all, Drobac played a starring role as the Bulldogs earned a 2-1 victory over the 67’s.
In their second of back-to-back games, the Bulldogs headed to Kingston as they took on the Frontenacs. The Bulldogs opened the game with jump pressing Fronts goaltender Mason Vaccari early and often in the first period, putting 11 shots to the Kingston net. Jake O’Brien worked his way high on the left dropping the puck off for Tomas Hamara who worked his way through the left circle and set Masen Wray in front of the net to snap his third of the season and give the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead. The Fronts fought back putting six shots to the Bulldogs net in the first frame but Matteo Drobac, coming off a brilliant performance in Ottawa last night, turned aside each effort. On the power-play at 18:48 the Bulldogs bubbled the lead, Marek Vanacker worked the puck to Nick Lardis whose shot was blocked on the left side but the puck bounced to Patrick Thomas in the right circle who paused for just a split second, freezing Vaccari and scoring his fourth of the season to put the Bulldogs up 2-0 through 20 minutes.
Matteo Drobac continued his recent brilliance in the second period, turning aside an early Tyler Hopkins right circle shot to keep the Bulldogs up by a 2-0 margin. Kingston did find a response in the middle frame, with Quinton Burns point drive being tipped in front of the Bulldogs net by Jacob Battaglia to cut the Bulldogs lead to 2-1. On the ensuing shift, Nathan Poole earned a breakaway coming out of his own zone. Staring down Matteo Drobac, Poole looked to freeze the Bulldogs netminder and pick the top corner stickside. Drobac followed the Fronts forward with each move and wouldn’t surrender an inch, denying the breakaway opportunity. The massive Drobac stop put a jump back into the Bulldogs, with Drobac himself moving the puck onto Jorian Donovan in the defensive zone. Donovan passed up the left wing side to Florian Xhekaj with a burst of speed, cutting through the left circle in the Kingston zone and shelving the puck over Mason Vaccari for his tenth of the season giving the Bulldogs a 3-1 through 40 minutes.
The Bulldogs kept the final frame fairly tidy with Matteo Drobac turning aside another seven shots, with his defense holding a chasing opponent to minimal opportunities once again. The Frontenacs bench got aggressive late, pulling Mason Vaccari for the extra attacker with just under four minutes to play but the defense pair of Hamara and Donovan spent the majority of the time playing keep away and parrying aside Kingston thrusts. At 17:21, Florian Xhekaj won a strength battle at the left point clearing the puck into neutral ice for Patrick Thomas who backhanded the puck to Jorian Donovan sending a 100-ft shot dead centre into the empty net. Donovan collected his sixth of the year while he, Thomas and Xhekaj each finished with a goal and an assist in a 4-1 Bulldogs victory to send the team home to Brantford with a weekend sweep and a 5-0-1-0 record in their last six games, capturing 11 of a possible 12 points.
With the victories, the Bulldogs now sit in third place in the East Division with a record of 9-7-3-1. Brantford’s next home game will be on Friday, November 24, 2023 when the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds come to town.