The Alberni Valley Bulldogs are hoping a deep bench will carry them far in the 2016-17 BC Hockey League season.
Only seven veteran players are returning, but head coach and general manager Kevin Willison said just because the lineup is heavy with rookies doesn’t mean it lacks in experience.
“Age is not a factor,” he said. “We’ve got a few US kids that are 19- and 20-year-olds. They’re rookies in the BCHL but have a lot of experience playing high-end hockey teams.
“One of our strong suits is going to be our leadership this year.”
“I like our speed and skill and the attitude of our players,” assistant coach Alex Evin said. “They’re all willing to learn…you can’t ask more as a coaching staff to work with kids like that.”
The Bulldogs proved in the pre-season that they can score goals; now they will have to keep it up.
“Our top two lines are going to be huge for us,” Willison said.
“We’ve played with our lines a little bit, but the way we’ve got them now it’s a pretty good balance and pretty good depth,” Willison said.
“Right now we’ve got some top six forwards and our bottom six are going to be mostly our penalty killing kind of guys, with some playing on the power play too.”
Fans attending the home opener might expect to see Tristan Bukovec, Jake Witowski and Ryan Finnegan on the first line, Henry Marshall teamed with Jordan Sandhu and Auggie Moore on the second line, Braydon Nelson, Ryan Steele and Cayden Kraus on the third and Kyle Kaufmann, Quinn Syrydiuk and newcomer Alex MacDonald from Nova Scotia on the fourth line.
The blueline “is pretty young, but we have some experience,” Willison said.
Garrett Halls aged out, Dominic Thom is going to SAIT in Calgary, and both Troy Dobbs and Nathan Dingmann decided to play in the US.
The Bulldogs traded for Malik Kaila, who was team captain for Merritt Centennials last year, and Paul Savage from Saskatoon. “The other five are solid D-men—young and promising,” Willison said.
“We tried to make it simple for them and so far they’ve bought in. They’ve been executing their part of the game plan pretty well so far.”
Goalies Brody Claeys and Carson Schamerhorn both return this season, giving the Bulldogs strength in the net.
“They’re very competitive in practice,” Willison said.
“They’re going to push each other,” said Evin, who has worked with Bulldogs’ goaltenders for three seasons—the first two as a part-time goalie coach. “Even though Brody played more last year and is 20 years old, Carson is motivated to play more games. He wants to stay as our No. 1 and move on and get a scholarship. It’s going to be healthy competition all year.
“They’ve both proven they can win in our league.”
Veteran player Jordan Sandhu, who will wear the captain’s C for the Bulldogs this year, says the team wants to capitalize on its solid pre-season.
“We’ve had a lot of changes in the off-season and a lot of new faces. Our pre-season was pretty good,” Sandhu said.
“On the front, we have a lot of offence—we can put the puck in the net. On the back end we have seven solid D-men. We also have one of the best goaltending duos in the league.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing what we can do [in Friday’s home opener] and the rest of the regular season.”