The Blackfalds Bulldogs are eagerly awaiting their second swing at an Alberta Junior Hockey League campaign.
The Bulldogs are hoping year two brings more prosperity– after a successful inaugural season where they finished the regular season with a 28-31-1 record, before bowing out to the Okotoks Oilers in the first of the playoffs.
They had plenty of time to ponder the playoff loss, even though it was a good test for the franchise in their first season, they are now using it as motivation.
“From January 1 and on the only team in the south division who had a better record than us was Brooks and we don’t want to rest on that too much because obviously we ran into Okotoks in the playoffs and they had our number,” said assistant general manager Adam West.
“But we felt confident on the back half and the guys we returned and the guys we’ve added on we think we’re in a better spot now than we were even then.”
The team is taking it in stride and after the defeat, they sat back, analyzed what they needed to address, and worked hard over the summer to fill some of those holes.
The Bulldogs finished 3-2 in the preseason this year and hope to build on that heading into the regular season, which starts on Friday in Olds against the Central Alberta rival Grizzlys.The Bulldogs will play their first home game on Sept. 23, as part of a four-game homestand.
West said they’re excited about the group that they have and their mindset coming off of last year is to continue to build off that foundation and continue to improve.
“Our group is a lot more well-rounded this year, a lot more depth. Especially in our forward group, we think we’re quite happy with that here to start,” West explained.
“Game one coming up here Friday and we’re finally excited to measure up against everyone else and get the season underway.”
They have six returning players from the 2021-22 season and added 15 players who played in Junior A hockey last year. They also signed a pair of players, forwards Wesley Zolin and defenceman Kai Oganeku, who impressed during training camp and the exhibition season and continued to climb the depth chart.
The main issue they addressed in the offseason was team defence and with the veteran presence, they hope to be harder to play against.
“We want to be a competitive team. We want to make a push in the playoffs and kind of always be in that argument of being a top team,” he said. “Being our second year ever you know it’s ambitious and that’s where we want our program to get to, to be one of those programs that’s competitive every year vying for a championship.”
The Bulldogs play in the Eagle Builders Centre in Blackfalds and anticipate they’ll get more fans out this year.
Last year being their first year they were the new team in town and people were pretty interested but were unable to get a full arena due to some ‘roadblocks.’ West explained those are out of the way now and the Bulldogs staff have been working hard to sell more tickets, create a more engaging fan experience, and get the team more involved in the community.
“All the reasons for more fans to come out this year are there and I can’t wait to see them out at the rink,” West said.
The Bulldogs will also be hosting the 2022 AJHL Showcase from Sept. 29 to Oct. 2 at the Eagle Builders Centre. The showcase is a multi-day event where all 16 teams play two regular season games each which bring fans from all over the province. It also has a strong scouting presence including some from Canadian colleges, junior teams, NCAA schools, and the National Hockey League.
“It’s huge for us and I’m really excited,” West said.
“From a hockey, side talking with NCAA Division I schools and those schools looking to recruit our players I feel like for over a year now they’ve heard a bunch about this brand new beautiful arena we have and the amazing locker room and the great things we’ve been doing with our team. Now it’s finally an opportunity we’re going to get all of those schools finally in our building.”
For those interested in Bulldogs tickets, or for the showcase they can visit bulldogsclub.ca or showpass.com.