Bulldogs fans will see a number of new faces during the 2017-18 season.
Only four players from the 2016-17 Alberni Valley Bulldogs roster will be returning— forwards Ryan Steele and Cayden Kraus, and defencemen Darren Rizzolo and Connor Welsh.
“We were looking for the 23 best guys that we could find here,” said head coach Matt Hughes. “That was the mentality that we went in with at the beginning of camp.”
He said this led to some tough decisions.
“There were some returning guys we had to let go,” he said.
The Bulldogs went 2-3-0 in their exhibition games, but Hughes said overall he was pretty happy with how things went. “In the games where we dressed our older roster, we were happy with the progress they made and their compete level,” he said. “In the games where we dressed our younger roster, the guys asserted themselves.”
One player who calls the Alberni Valley his hometown made it all the way through main camp and exhibition to earn a spot on the roster. Ezra Paddock, who last year played for the VIJHL’s Oceanside Generals, played 10 games with the Bulldogs as an affiliate during the 2015-16 season.
“Ezra did great,” said Hughes. “[He] earned this. He got better every day during camp. He’s a young defenceman with a lot of potential, and he’ll get better every time he plays.”
Colten Lancaster is the new starting netminder between the pipes, after the departure of 2016-17 Bulldogs’ MVP Brody Claeys to the NCAA Div. University of Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves program.
“We have Colten Lancaster coming in as our No. 1 guy,” said Hughes. “I believe he’s ready to take on that role.”
Lancaster was acquired in a trade with the Merritt Centennials this summer. Last season, he finished 11th among BCHL goalies in goals-against average (3.04) and ninth in save percentage (.913).
The rest of the Bulldogs’ main camp and exhibition was a tournament to find someone to take on the backup role for Lancaster. John Hawthorne, who spent the 2016-17 season with the VIJHL’s Nanaimo Buccaneers, has taken on that role.
The Bulldogs’ leadership group also has a new look, after the Bulldogs parted ways with former captain Jordan Sandhu this summer.
Forward Ryan Steele has been named the new Bulldogs captain, with Mitch Oliver, Connor Welsh and Cole Poliziani taking on alternate captain roles.
Hughes said the decision was made after seeing how they performed during camp and spending time with them away from the rink.
“I asked the other guys [on the team] and it was pretty close to what I was feeling,” said Hughes. “There are a lot of quality people on this team. I think there are eight or nine guys who could have been chosen, rather than just the four.”
For their upcoming games, Hughes said the team is continuing the same process they started in camp and exhibition.
“We’re fine-tuning some of the system stuff and the special teams,” he said. “Just getting the guys as comfortable as we can.”
The new-look Bulldogs take the ice in Nanaimo on Friday, Sept. 8 at 7 p.m. for their season opener. The Bulldogs’ home opener takes place against the Victoria Grizzlies on Friday, Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. Game night starts with a hotdog tailgate party courtesy of Literacy Alberni at 5 p.m.