BCHL: Alberni Valley Bulldogs welcome fans back for home opener

Fans in masks fill seats at Weyerhaeuser Arena for the Alberni Valley Bulldogs’ game Oct. 15, 2021 against Victoria Grizzlies. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)Fans in masks fill seats at Weyerhaeuser Arena for the Alberni Valley Bulldogs’ game Oct. 15, 2021 against Victoria Grizzlies. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
The Alberni Valley Bulldogs’ first home game in 500 days with fans in the seats Oct. 15, 2021 was a sellout—950 tickets under provincial COVID-19 restrictions. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)The Alberni Valley Bulldogs’ first home game in 500 days with fans in the seats Oct. 15, 2021 was a sellout—950 tickets under provincial COVID-19 restrictions. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Alberni Valley Bulldogs’ captain Stephen Castagna takes to the ice amid a laser show for the BC Hockey League team’s first game in front of fans in 500 days. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)Alberni Valley Bulldogs’ captain Stephen Castagna takes to the ice amid a laser show for the BC Hockey League team’s first game in front of fans in 500 days. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Alberni Valley Bulldogs’ team captain Stephen Castagna, centre, holds back Victoria Grizzlies’ Declan Ride so ‘Dogs forward Josh Van Unen, left, can grab the puck. (Oct. 15, 2021) (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)Alberni Valley Bulldogs’ team captain Stephen Castagna, centre, holds back Victoria Grizzlies’ Declan Ride so ‘Dogs forward Josh Van Unen, left, can grab the puck. (Oct. 15, 2021) (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Alberni Valley Bulldogs’ Stephen Castagna goes in alone on Victoria Grizzlies’ goalie Carter Woodside during second period action Oct. 15, 2021 in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)Alberni Valley Bulldogs’ Stephen Castagna goes in alone on Victoria Grizzlies’ goalie Carter Woodside during second period action Oct. 15, 2021 in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Alberni Valley Bulldogs’ blueliner Braden Blace tries to move Victoria Grizzlies’ Eli Barnett from the crease in front of Hobie Hedquist in second period BCHL action Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 at Weyerhaeuser Arena. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)Alberni Valley Bulldogs’ blueliner Braden Blace tries to move Victoria Grizzlies’ Eli Barnett from the crease in front of Hobie Hedquist in second period BCHL action Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 at Weyerhaeuser Arena. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

For the first time in 500 days, hockey fans returned to Weyerhaeuser Arena to welcome the B.C. Hockey League Alberni Valley Bulldogs home.

The Bulldogs hosted Victoria Grizzlies in their home opener Oct. 15, dropping a 3-2 decision in overtime but grabbing a single point for taking the game to extra time. Chase Klassen scored the ‘Dogs’ first goal at 4:55 of the second period on a pass from Mirko Buttazzoni to cut Victoria’s lead to 2-1. Josh Van Unen (Brandon Buhr, Ryan Nause) tied it up at 18:33 to force the extra period.

Victoria’s Connor Eddy scored at the two-minute mark to give the visitors victory, but the game felt like a win for the fans and Bulldogs’ ownership.

“The best word that would sum it up is relief,” Bulldogs’ president David Michaud said. Michaud was all smiles as he took to the ice prior to the game’s start for a ceremonial puck drop with San Group owners Suki and Kamal Sanghera.

“Relief for me, but excitement for the players.”

That excitement could be felt throughout the Dawg Pound all week leading up to the game as players anticipated the return of the Bulldogs’ fans. Port Alberni’s rink is renowned for its fan support throughout the B.C. Hockey League, and hearing the siren rev up after a Bulldogs’ goal is loud and iconic.

There was also anticipation among many team members who haven’t experienced the Dawg Pound at the Alberni Valley Multiplex. “(Josh) Zary, Stevie Castagna and (Jackson) Glassford were the last Bulldogs to play in the Dawg Pound with fans,” Michaud said.

Having fans—and going to a hockey game in person—“is such a big part of the social fabric of coming to the rink,” he said.

The Bulldogs sold out Friday’s home opener against Victoria Grizzlies: 950 tickets, which is half of what a usual sellout is. “We’re only allowed 50 percent capacity because of public (COVID-19) health orders,” Michaud said.

“We turned away dozens and dozens and dozens of people who came to the office looking for tickets.”

The Bulldogs were back on home ice Oct. 17 with a big 6-2 victory over Cowichan Capitals. Attendance was 870. Brandon Buhr and Finn Brown both scored two goals, with singles coming from Josh Van Unen and Mirko Buttazzoni—his first in the BCHL—in the win.

ICE CHIPS…The Bulldogs will be in Chilliwack for games Oct. 23-24 as part of the BCHL Showcase…They are back at Weyerhaeuser Arena Oct. 30 for a game vs. Vernon Vipers…Book tickets online at tickets.albernivalleybulldogs.ca or call the Bulldogs’ office ahead of time.

BCHL, Alberni Valley BulldogsPORT ALBERNI