Port Alberni had barely begun to enjoy a late, hot summer when Don Deforest was back in the cool recesses of the Alberni Valley Multiplex, in his usual section in the bleachers—Section 104, Row K—watching hockey.
Deforest has been a season ticket holder at the Bulldogs’ games since the first season that Jr. A hockey came to town. He and his wife can be found among other regulars at every home game.
“I enjoy coming out to training camps just to see what they’re getting; to see if anybody shines that I can pick out,” he said as he watched Team Ruel and Team Ross battle it out in an intra-squad scrimmage.
A steadfast fan of the game, Deforest used to watch the Alberni Bandits’ Jr. B team games in the old arena. When it was announced in 2002 that a Jr. A franchise would move from Burnaby to Port Alberni to play in the new multiplex, Deforest was among the first to commit to season tickets.
That first year, when there were 1,000 season ticket holders and the building was often stuffed to the rafters, was special, he said.
“One of the hockey newspapers after the first year said this was the envy of the league. The building was full. It’s a small building and it was loud,” he said.
“The players loved playing here.”
Through the past 10 years the numbers of season ticket holders have fluctuated—this year they were approaching 800 by the first home game. But a core group of more than 500, including Deforest, have had their tickets since the beginning.
“The first few years there was a waiting list for season tickets,” he said.
“You couldn’t get them. Then they had a few really bad years and they lost their fan base. But the fans are starting to come back.”
“We have a really strong fan base,” said Bulldogs’ office manager, Noreen Pelk. “I don’t think any other Jr. A hockey team can say that, in B.C.”
The Bulldogs were the fourth highest in average fan attendance last season in the B.C. Hockey League, going up against buildings with a larger seating capacity.
The longtime fans come out for the love of the game, says Deforest, and to support the team. “It’s (being) a loyal fan. You can’t have a winning team every year. You’ve got to pull for them whether they’re leading the league or at the bottom of the league. They’re all young guys trying hard.”
For the entertainment value, there’s nothing that compares, he said. And for diehard hockey fans, the B.C. Hockey League delivers.
“That’s the best thing that happened to this little town.”