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Brantford Bulldogs skate past Sudbury Wolves

Brantford BulldogsBrantford Bulldogs skate past Sudbury Wolves

In a game with the makings of a heavyweight tilt, the Brantford Bulldogs rose to the challenge, defeating the Sudbury Wolves 5-3 on Friday, February 2, 2024.

The Bulldogs got off to a sluggish start in the first period. It started early as the Bulldogs with the man advantage with defenceman Tomas Hamara turnover the puck in the neutral zone. Wolves centreman Nathan Villeneuve grabbed the puck, skated towards the Brantford goal, and deked out Bulldogs netminder Matteo Drobac for a 1-0 lead.

Both teams had several quality chances and physicality as the period progressed.

But the Wolves added another goal midway through the opening frame on a powerplay of their own. With 7:12 remaining, after Drobac made a couple of initial saves, Wolves right winger Evan Konyen gets the rebound, beating the sprawling Bulldogs netminder for a 2-0 Sudbury lead.

The Bulldogs offence controlled the pace for most of the second period and generated multiple scoring chances while drawing penalties from the visitors. On the four-on-three advantage early in the middle frame, the Bulldogs finally solved Wolves netminder Jakub Vondras, who was playing an excellent game.

Sudbury Wolves D Noah Van Vliet (2) scuffles with Bulldogs C Florian Xhekaj (43) in the second period.

At 6:24, the Bulldogs powerplay unit created traffic up close at the Sudbury net, with centreman Jake O’Brien tucking the puck just past Vondras for his eighth of the season. The assists on the O’Brien goal were credited to the right winger Zakary Lavoie (14 points in nine games with the Bulldogs) and Hamara. 

Less than a minute later, the powerplay unit continued their goal barrage. After Hamara made a great save preserving the puck onside in the attacking zone, right winger Adrian Rebelo made a sharp pass to a wide-open left winger Lawson Sherk, who shot it past the left side of Wolves netminder Vondras to even the score at 2-2. Hamara tallied his second assist of the game, while Rebelo was credited for the primary assist. 

The Bulldogs would then take the lead for the first time in the contest on the powerplay. With 10:36 remaining in the period, Bulldogs centreman O’Brien dished the sharp, cross-ice pass to Lavoie, who advanced the puck for a return pass to O’Brien. The standout rookie then skates with the puck towards the Sudbury goal, passed to Vanacker, who then spun around the puck, fooling the Wolves defence and netminder Vondras, to the left winger Patrick Thomas near the crease, who made no mistake. Vanacker and O’Brien notched an assist on Thomas’ tenth goal of the year.

Bulldogs LW Patrick Thomas watches his shot gets past Sudbury Wolves G Jakub Vondras (29) midway through the second period.

With Thomas’ goal, the fourth-year forward has tied with former Bulldog Will Bitten for sixth in the franchise’s all-time points list with 121 and Kade Landry for sixth in the all-time assists list (88).

The game would then take an ugly turn at the end of the period. Wolves centreman Villeneuve struck Bulldogs Lavoie with an elbow to the head, leading to a series of scrums near centre ice. When the dust settled, the Bulldogs began the final period on the penalty kill due to centreman Florian Xhekaj receiving a two-minute roughing penalty. Amongst other penalized players from both sides, both Bulldogs’ defenceman Cedrickson Okitundu and Wolves’ centreman Alex Pharand received game misconduct. 

The Bulldogs received a nice applause from the raucous crowd of 3,166 as they exited the dressing room for the intermission.

In the third period, the Bulldogs continued to grind through and increased their lead early. Left winger and team captain Lawson Sherk intercepted the puck at the Wolf’s attacking zone, made the breakaway down the ice, did the lifting backhand shot that went past Vondra’s stick side for his second goal of the contest and gave the Bulldogs a 4-2 lead.

Bulldogs G Matteo Drobac (45) covers the puck in the third period.

At the 4:21 mark of the period, Bulldogs netminder Matteo Drobac, looking for his 20th win of the season, provided a critical stop in this tightly contested game. After Bulldogs left winger Luca Testa shot off the post, the Wolves centreman Villeneuve took the rebound and made the feed to centreman Kocha Delic. Delic would then streak down centre ice with two Bulldogs defenders on his tail and shoot the puck, but Drobac made the keypad save to preserve the lead.

Xhekaj would then cement the win for the Bulldogs with 5:12 to go. Vanacker made the feed near the blue line in transition to Xhekaj, who sniped the puck past Vondras’ glove side. Xhekaj notched his 18th goal of the season, assisted by Vanacker, who extended his point streak to eleven games (11 goals, nine assists) with two points in tonight’s contest.

The Wolves would score a late goal with the extra attacker, but that was as close it would get. 

With the victory, Bulldogs netminder Matteo Drobac became only the fourth goaltender in franchise history to win twenty games in a season, joining Marco Costantini, Kaden Fulcher, and Zachary Roy.

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