The Alberni Valley Bulldogs are back on the ice for the BC Hockey League’s exhibition schedule with some new faces and some familiar ones.
The Bulldogs have been dominant so far during pre-season action, with a 3-1 record in exhibition games against the Nanaimo Clippers and Victoria Grizzlies. Their final preseason game will take place against the Cowichan Valley Capitals on Saturday, Oct. 2 at the Alberni Valley Multiplex.
The Bulldogs are coming off of a shortened 2020-2021 season that ended with a second-place finish in the BCHL’s Island pod. Head coach and general manager Joe Martin says the goal this year is to win a championship.
“We had an inexperienced, younger team heading into the pod season after all our veterans left,” explained Martin. “A lot of younger players got in some games earlier than expected. I think we’re in a better position heading into this season.”
A number of familiar players will be returning, including the dynamic trio of Stephen Castagna, Brandon Buhr and Josh Van Unen, which was one of the most dominant lines of the pod season.
But there are also some new faces on the Bulldogs roster this year. Martin said players like Caden Tremblay, Mirko Buttazzoni and Zeke Nicholson have impressed so far during preseason, despite their lack of experience.
“These are all school-aged players that have played well in exhibition, and they’re some of the youngest guys on the team,” said Martin.
With the new addition of the Junior ‘B’ Port Alberni Bombers, Martin expects to have some players going back and forth between the two teams once the roster is finalized.
The Bulldogs have also hired Wacey Rabbit as a new assistant coach for the 2021-2022. A native of Lethbridge, Alberta, Rabbit recently retired from a professional hockey career that spanned 15 seasons and included more than 300 AHL games and many stops in Europe. In his final professional season, Rabbit captained the Jacksonville Icemen of the ECHL.
Rabbit joined the Bulldogs team a couple months ago, said Martin, and the team is already seeing the benefits.
“He’s played the game for a long time at a high level,” said Martin.
“He’s a great teacher with a lot of information. He’s going to really help our players grab that next step of what it’s like to be a professional.”
And unlike last season, the Bulldogs are actually seeing fans in the stands during their exhibition games.
“It’s nice to have fans back for sure,” said Martin. “We’re looking forward to our home opener—we’re hoping to have a lot of people here come October.”
ICE CHIPS…The Bulldogs will hold their home opener on Friday, Oct. 15 as they host the Victoria Grizzlies. Puck drop is at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online at www.albernivalleybulldogs.ca or in person at the Alberni Valley Multiplex.