Alberni Valley Bulldogs players take part in a Zoom meeting with pro hockey player Wacey Rabbit. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)

Alberni Valley Bulldogs players take part in a Zoom meeting with pro hockey player Wacey Rabbit. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)

BCHL: Alberni Valley Bulldogs face COVID-19 challenges

Challenges of the pandemic are offering new opportunities for younger players

With the B.C. Hockey League delaying the start of its 2020-2021 season again, the Alberni Valley Bulldogs are caught in a strange state of limbo as they wait to hear when they will be allowed to play games once more.

Due to the extension of restrictions around mass gatherings and events announced by the Provincial Health Office on Friday, Feb. 5, the BCHL has once again delayed the start of its regular season to March.

BCHL teams will continue operating under phase-two protocols, which allow for individual on-ice skills and drills.

Although the players haven’t been able to take the ice for games or scrimmages, Alberni Valley Bulldogs head coach Joe Martin said they are still practicing Monday to Friday.

“It’s a lot of skill work—that’s all we can do right now,” said Martin.

In addition, the Bulldogs have been using the extra time to take part in Zoom meetings with professional hockey players. They recently met with ECHL player Wacey Rabbit, as well as former Bulldog Jordan Sandhu, who currently plays with Arizona State University in the NCAA.

“We’ve got to find the positives in it,” said Martin. “We’re making sure that when the curtain does go up, our players will be ready.”

The Bulldogs have lost several key players over the last few months, including forwards Tyler Kostelecky, Caige Sterzer and Dawson Tritt, as well as defencemen Mattias Dal Monte and Jimmy Rayhill. They have all gone to play in the North American Hockey League (NAHL) in the U.S., which has been able to take the ice for games.

“This is their last year of junior hockey,” Martin explained. “It was hard for them—none of them wanted to leave. But the news we got on Jan. 8 wasn’t promising. They did what they felt was best for their career.”

Although the team still meets the minimum requirement to play a game in the BCHL, Martin said he is still looking for more players to add to the roster—especially forwards.

“It’s led to us being short in numbers,” said Martin. “We’re being very cautious—we don’t want to add just anybody. I want to be sure I see them in our future. But we’re actively looking every day.”

Just last month, the Bulldogs signed local player Caden Tremblay to their roster. Tremblay will be the first Port Alberni resident to suit up full time for the Bulldogs since 2015.

Martin said the challenges of the pandemic are offering new opportunities for younger Bulldogs players.

“It’s put a lot more emphasis on players that did not have that emphasis at the beginning of the year,” said Martin. “These players are taking a step forward. If we play games this year—and I believe we will—they will have more opportunities to play, more ice time.”

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