Even with the Alberta Junior Hockey League on pause, it hasn’t stopped the Blackfalds Bulldogs from pushing forward.
The Bulldogs are less than a year away from their inaugural season and Wednesday was a historic mark for the club.
The team announced that Kaiden Ellertson, a defenceman from Red Deer was the first player to commit to the franchise. Ellertson said he’s still speechless over the announcement, even if made the commitment a few weeks ago.
“It was an unbelievable feeling obviously, something I’ll never forget,” said the 16-year-old Wednesday.
Ellertson can’t officially sign with the team until January, but Bulldogs owner, president and coach Doug Quinn knows the teen well.
After all, the defenceman was an anchor for Quinn last year on Red Deer U18AAA Optimist Chiefs blue line.
“Kaiden was arguably my best defenceman last year. He’s got a really strong work ethic, he’s got a lot of skill and ability and he wants to be a hockey player,” Quinn said.
“It just worked out because of our relationship from last year, that he was the first one that we wanted to approach and I thought it was a good choice.”
As Ellertson tells it, it was actually words of wisdom from Quinn last season that pushed him to take his game to new heights.
“Doug and I have been close ever since last year… he mentioned to me if I kept working hard, one day I could play for the new team in Blackfalds,” Ellertson recalled.
“Ever since that moment I’ve been grinding and pushing to try and get there because that was something I really wanted.”
This season, Ellertson is captain for the Optimist Chiefs and that leadership ability is something Quinn understands will be valuable as the franchise builds towards opening night.
“It definitely helps. To have somebody who is familiar with us and what our style is. He’s a natural leader,” Quinn said.
“He’s still going to be a 17-year-old coming into a league that has a lot of 18, 19 and 20-year-olds, so we’re not expecting him to come in and be the guy immediately.”
Ellertson had 11 points in 30 games with the Chiefs last year, and also played in one game with the AJHL’s Lloydminster Bobcats.
In the early goings of the 2020-21 season, it’s been a whole different story. The teen has two goals and three assists in five games and is anxiously awaiting a restart to the Alberta Elite Hockey League season.
“Started out strong, came into the season with a lot of confidence because I played in the league last year and knew my way around. I was putting up some pretty good numbers, I had a point per game. I just felt like I had way more control over the game,” he said.
In 2019 Ellertson was picked by the Brandon Wheat Kings, 96th overall in the WHL Bantam Draft.
In addition to the Red Deer product, the Bulldogs have another 4-5 players ready to sign, they just need to wait until the calendar flips to January before putting pen to paper.
Quinn said everything is progressing well and despite limited scouting opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve been able to identify several players that will help them next season. He lauded the work of Al Parada, director of hockey operations and assistant GM, Adam West in identifying talent.
“It’s starting to come together and people are starting to understand what we’re building. The interest is really starting to ramp up,” Quinn added.