The Alberni Valley Bulldogs have won their first exhibition game of the 2018-19 B.C. Hockey League season.
Fueled by a three-point night by Michael Sacco, who played centre on the first line, the Bulldogs beat visiting Powell River Kings 6–2.
The Kings struck first, at 2:04 of the first period on a goal by Nic Porchetta. They went into the first intermission with the 1–0 lead, but the Bulldogs neutralized that at the 3:22 mark of the second period, tying it up with Sacco’s first of two goals. Two more unanswered goals in the second period Keaton Mastrodonato (assisted by Sacco and Ryan Novecosky) and Aaron Bohlinger (from Mastrodonato) gave the Bulldogs a 3–1 lead after two periods.
Sacco put the Bulldogs ahead 4–1 at the midway mark of the third period. The Kings’ Mitch Williams scored at 15:28, but the Dawson Tritt scored the Bulldogs’ fifth goal of the game 42 seconds later to go up 5–2. Alberni cemented the win with a final goal by Tyler Vanuden at 18:18.
Bulldogs’ head coach Matt Hughes was happy to see his team gain momentum as the game wore on. “We dressed a pretty veteran lineup tonight because we wanted to see how they looked,” Hughes said. “I thought we got better each period. I thought in the second and third we really picked the pace up.”
Main training camp ended Thursday with the annual Red vs. White game; Hughes and assistant coach Jeff Dubois are carrying 30 players on the roster at the moment, and must pare that number down to 23 by opening night, Sept. 7.
“Every day guys are fighting for jobs. We have four more exhibition games next week, Tuesday and Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, so there’s going to be some tough choices to make as we go down the road.”
Hughes has been busy this summer scouting players with emphasis on experience, speed and size. “We’re looking for guys that excelled and were top level of where they were at, guys that are ready to jump into this level and not only contribute but get better every day,” he said. “That’s the important thing.”
The Bulldogs’ blueline was thin at the end of the 2017-18 season, and the coaching staff has worked hard to build a solid blueline for this season. Hughes is happy with what he’s seen from training camp so far.
“We lost some key, big-minute guys from last year, but with a full year of recruiting we’ve been able to go after some pretty high-end guys and we like what our mix looks like back there. We’ve got 10 defencemen still in camp, all of whom are capable of playing in this league, so I think there’s going to be some battles for spots coming down the line.”
The Bulldogs play home-and-home games against the Cowichan Valley Capitals on Tuesday, Aug. 28 in Duncan at the big hockey stick, and Wednesday, Aug. 29 at their home “Dogpound” (Weyerhaeuser Arena at the AV Multiplex) at 7 p.m.
Other exhibition games are Friday, Aug. 31 at Frank Crane Arena in Nanaimo to face the Nanaimo Clippers, and Saturday, Sept. 1 to face the Clippers again in a special exhibition game at Oceanside Arena in Parksville. That game starts at 7 p.m.
The Bulldogs’ regular B.C. Hockey League season begins on Sept. 7 on the road with a game against Cowichan Capitals, starting at 6 p.m. Their first home game will be Friday, Sept. 14 when Victoria Grizzlies are in town. Puck drop for that game will be 7 p.m. For the team’s complete schedule, go online to www.albernivalleybulldogs.ca.