The BCHL’s Alberni Valley Bulldogs are back on the ice.
Last week, the Bulldogs announced their 13-game pre-season schedule leading up to the start of the BCHL regular season in early December. The Bulldogs will kick off play on Oct. 2 against the Nanaimo Clippers—the same club that bounced them unceremoniously from the playoffs last year.
In the meantime, the team is beginning to take shape with an extended training camp that started on Sept. 14. Prospective Bulldogs have now formed a “bubble” at the Alberni Valley Multiplex, meaning players are not allowed to be interchanged. Thirty players will spend the next few months competing for 25 roster positions.
“We’ll just slowly evaluate and try to help all these players improve,” said Bulldogs head coach Joe Martin. “The big thing is skating every day. A little bit of culture and how we want to play our game. There’s a lot of team building—just showcasing what it’s like to be here in Port Alberni.”
Normally, the Bulldogs host identification camps throughout the summer. This year, the team was only able to hold one ID camp in late August, where players had not yet been cleared to practice five-on-five hockey.
“Those were more skill sessions,” explained Martin. “It’s only a snapshot of a part of the game—only a small glimpse of what players can do in a bubble.”
The Bulldogs’ 2019-20 season came to an end in March when the team was eliminated from the first round of the playoffs in a 4-0 sweep by the Nanaimo Clippers. They lost a few players to college, and a couple more to trades, but this season’s team will still be a “veteran group” said Martin.
Both goaltenders will be returning, but a starter and a backup have not been selected. Jackson Glassford put up an impressive start to the season before getting sick, but Luke Pearson posted a solid playoff performance in Glassford’s absence.
“They’re both 19, they both want to play,” said Martin. “They both realize there’s only one net—it will be up to performance.”
He expects big years from returning players, like Dawson Tritt and Jimmy Rayhill. The team lost forward Tyler Kostelecky early last season to an injury, but he is “looking good” after a few months of rehab, Martin said. Jacob Bosse, who was one of the team’s highest-scoring forwards last season, has added 20 pounds of muscle during the summer.
“I think that’s going to help his game,” said Martin.
The Bulldogs also added some youth to the lineup over the offseason, with signings like Ethan Bono. These young players are fitting in well so far, said Martin.
The BCHL is still waiting to hear from the province whether or not the league will be allowed to have fans in the stands. The league has issued a request for 25 percent capacity in arenas, but player fees, sponsorship and government support will allow the league to move forward even if that request is not approved.
Martin admitted that it will be strange playing without a crowd, or even with a smaller one.
“Here at home, it’s really nice to play in front of the fans,” said Martin. “We consider it an advantage. Playing here is going to be odd at the start. But the guys are hungry to play,” he added. “They want to play right now, and they’ll take it any way they can get.”