For the Alberni Valley Bulldogs and the Victoria Grizzlies, the canvas is bare, it’s a blank slate, and optimism rides high for both clubs as they kick-off the 22-23 BCHL season tonight in Colwood, BC.
The Grizzlies feature a new head coach in Rylan Ferster as he replaced long-time Grizzlies bench boss Craig Didmon this summer. Ferster is no stranger to the BCHL having won a league & national championship with the West Kelowna Warriors. After an extended departure south of the boarder, Ferster is back in the BCHL and hoping to help take the Grizzlies to the next level. Always considered a favourite, the Grizzlies have failed to deliver on that promise year after year. For Ferster, the building in Victoria has begun.
For the Bulldogs, they are hoping to keep the momentum rolling from last year. The Bulldogs claimed the Coastal Conference Pennant by virtue of a 35-15-3-1 record. They finished 4 points clear of both Chilliwack and Nanaimo for the Conference title. The playoffs brought disappointment with an earlier than expected 2nd round loss to the Langley Rivermen. The hope is that the sting of last year’s playoff defeat will serve as a prime motivator for the 12 players that have returned from last seasons roster. Unfinished business perhaps.
The Bulldogs are headlined by a defence that was already the stingiest in the Coastal Conference a season ago. Back in goal is team MVP from last season Hobie Hedquist. The North Dakota commit is poised to put his stamp on the Bulldogs record book if he can post numbers anything close to last season. Hedquist was 28-9 with 5 shutouts in his 1st season with the Bulldogs. Hedquist was also a finalist for the BCHL’s top goaltender award. Hedquist will have Bombers sensation Callum Tung pushing him all season long for starts. Tung was great in the pre-season and provides the Bulldogs with enviable depth in goal.
In order to beat Hedquist or Tung, you have to navigate your way through 5 returning defenceman. Twin towers Logan Holm and Braden Blace, measuring in at 6’5″ & 6’3″ respectively. The duo form arguably the top shutdown pairing in the BCHL. Jeremy Fontaine and Manu Charbonneau are reunited, and new-comer Jax Wismer who dazzled in camp will be paired with either returning defenceman and Port Alberni native Caden Tremblay or Tristan Taylor who joins the Bulldogs after a national championship appearance with the U18 Vancouver NE Chiefs.
Up front the Bulldogs will be tasked with replacing the offence missing from Stephen Castagna, Josh Zary, and Josh Van Unen. The trio formed a formidable line for opposition last year and the Bulldogs will need returning forwards Matthew Maltais, Ethan Bono, Nicholas Beneteau, Cole Melady & Zeke Nicholson to take a step up in production. The additions of Denver commit Cam VanSickle, Providence commit Will Elger, and Holy Cross commit Matt Kursonis will help immensely. The Bulldogs also added the Jr. B Bombers leading scorer Brady McIsaac to the fold and Matteo Sjoberg, fresh off a rock-solid playoff performance in the VIJHL. The forwards are rounded out by a pair of UNO committed brothers in 16 year-old Raoul and 18-year old Jules Boilard. Like Taylor, the brothers competed in the U18 national Championship where they won silver medals. Jules was named the tournament’s top forward with 14 points in the event.
Add it all up and the Bulldogs have all the elements required to build on the success of last season, and compete for a BCHL championship in the spring. It’s a long, winding road, and it all starts tonight.
You can watch live on BCHL TV, or listen to Evan Hammond on 93.3 The Peak.
Season Tickets are still available online or at the box office. This season you save over 30% on walk up prices when you purchase a season ticket. Adults are just $299+ gst and local youth 18 & under are still free when accompanied by an adult thanks to the San Group. Some conditions apply on season tickets, so please visit our website for details.