Brantford Bulldogs

Drobac Sensational; Xhekaj Clutch In Bulldogs" 3-2 Win In Flint

February 23, 2024 - Ontario Hockey League (OHL)
Brantford Bulldogs News Release

FLINT, MICHIGAN. The Brantford Bulldogs opened their only trip of the 2023-24 season to the state of Michigan on Friday night visiting the Flint Firebirds. The Bulldogs welcomed Niko Krmpotic to the lineup, after signing on Wednesday, making his OHL debut.

As has seemingly been the case of late, Matteo Drobac made himself a story in the opening period, turning aside all 12 shots he faced including a sharp splitting toe save on Alex Kostov within the first two minutes to show he was right into the game. The Firebirds had the only power-play of the period, with Drobac walling the goal-line and Patrick Thomas attempting to find Zakary Lavoie moving forward. With the puck on edge Lavoie instead took on a pair of Firebirds to the left corner and launched the puck back to his defense to kill more time on the penalty. Once back to 5-on-5 the Bulldogs pushed for a couple opportunities, Cole Brown off a Ben Bujold feed at the left side of the goal wasn't able to squeeze a shot between Nathan Day and the post. Patrick Thomas on the next shift, taking a Florian Xhekaj pass through the left circle looked to have a prime shot but a timely defensive block again kept the game scoreless heading to the locker room through 20 minutes.

Matteo Drobac stood for his mates once again in the middle frame, opening the period with a great save on a Flint 2-on-1 with Oliver Peer carrying down the right side and firing on goal. The Bulldogs rewarded Drobac's efforts at 11:31 on their first power-play of the game. Jake O'Brien working on the left side to pull the puck through a scramble worked it to the top of the formation for Patrick Thomas. As Thomas fired a shot that was parried away by Nathan Day, Zakary Lavoie flew in through the right circle to rip a wrister for his 24th of the season giving the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead. Just a couple shifts following the goal, Matteo Drobac made a brilliant glove save on Nathan Aspinall who worked through the slot on his backhand. Aspinall appeared to capture an odd rebound and backhand it off Drobac's pad and into the net, which drew and immediate protest from the Bulldogs netminder. On review the goal was rightly disallowed as the rebound was created by Nathan Aspinall putting his stick in Drobac's glove, preventing him from holding for the stoppage. The game remained 1-0 through 40 minutes with Drobac turning aside 24 shots through the first two periods.

The third period was a different game from the first two frames, beginning 40-seconds in. Jake O'Brien freed the puck from behind the goal for Marek Vanacker who found Zakary Lavoie with a perfect pass in the slot. Lavoie fired from right above the bottom hash, beating Day for his 2nd of the season & 25th of the season giving the Bulldogs a 2-0 lead. The Firebirds, battling for playoff positioning in the West wouldn't give up, Tristan Bertucci's power-play marker, his 6th of the season, on a screen shot at 4:56 was matched at 11:30 by Jimmy Lombardi's 6th. Lombardi found a puck through a scramble out front of Drobac to tie the game 2-2. Drobac wouldn't be beaten again, stopping 35 shots through the game, including 12 in the third period, slamming the door of the Brantford zone and allowing for a thrilling finish. At 18:19, Lucas Moore whipped the puck across the ice just outside the Flint blueline from right to left. Patrick Thomas allowed Calvin Crombie to hop back over the blueline before capturing the puck on the left side striding into the Flint zone. Thomas dropped the puck back to Crombie's forehand who had the vision to see Florian Xhekaj breaking loose down the middle of the ice off a defender where he extended his reach and tipped the puck over Nathan Day, off the back bar and in for his 28th of the season, giving the Bulldogs a 3-2 victory.

The Brantford Bulldogs close out the weekend and their Michigan road trip on Saturday, February 24th visiting the old friend Jorian Donovan and the Saginaw Spirit at the Dow Event Centre with a 7:05pm start time.

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