The Blackfalds Bulldogs have made leaps and bounds since their inaugural season last year.
In the 2021-22 season, the Bulldogs finished just below .500 in the South Division and were swept in the first round of the Alberta Junior Hockey League playoffs.
It was to be expected in the franchise’s first season of Junior A hockey but despite that, Blackfalds has made some noise in the first half of the 2022/23 campaign.
“We’ve definitely taken our team to another level compared to last year,” said owner, president, and head coach Doug Quinn. “I think we have a lot more depth this year and definitely more depth on defence and a lot of team speed.”
The team is also excited about five of their players moving onto the next level and committing to play in the NCAA after they’re done in the AJHL. They also acquired four players via trade who were already committed to play for NCAA programs for a total of nine players on the Bulldogs so far.
“We’re very proud of accomplishing that,” he added.
In the first 36 games of this season, the Bulldogs sit in fourth place in the division at 19-14-1-2 just one point back from the third-place Drumheller Dragons.
“There is no doubt that we had a few ups and downs during the first half of the year. Some of that is because we had some injuries and we also made some changes to our lineup,” Quinn said.
“We have some young kids that joined this league for the first time and there’s a little bit of a growth and learning curve for everybody to find that consistency.”
With just over two months left in the regular season, Quinn expects his team to continue to grow and find the work ethic that all coaches aspire their players to have.
At this point, they’ve played every team in the AJHL and Quinn has seen his players begin to realize they can be competitive with any squad. If they cut out mistakes, Quinn believes they have the team to accomplish great things.
With the trade deadline approaching on January 10 Quinn said they’re happy with the changes they made before Christmas and feel confident moving forward with the team they’ve built.
“We definitely can score and we’ve got a good powerplay but if we’re going to compete with the top teams in our league we need to play a consistent brand of hockey,” Quinn said adding they also need to play better defensively.
Captain Brett Meerman has led the way offensively for Blackfalds with 19 goals and 31 assists for 50 points. Meerman’s performance has been good enough for fourth in the league in points and ninth in goals.
Forward Tyler Wallace is close behind him with 19 goals and 23 assists for 42 points. Forward Jason Siedem also has 12 goals and 27 assists for 39 points.
Before the break, the Blackfalds went on a run in December winning their first four games before losing to the league-best Brooks Bandits in a shootout. The Bulldogs then won two of the final three games.
“We brought in a couple of players with trades that gave us a little bit of a spark… I thought a combination of getting those guys in the lineup and goaltending was better. We played with a lot more confidence and we want to continue to build on that into the second half of the year.”
Blackfalds resumes their season on Friday against the Olds Grizzlys at 7 p.m. at the Eagle Builders Centre and on Saturday the two teams will renew the rivalry in Olds at 4 p.m.