There’s excitement, optimism, as well as a bit of a chill in the air at Eagle Builders Centre as the Blackfalds Bulldogs season is just around the corner.
On Friday the Bulldogs kicked off the first day of training camp ahead of the Alberta Junior Hockey League season. As the players headed out on the newly laid fresh sheet of ice for their first intrasquad game of the weekend it felt as though summer came to an end and fall began as the players traded in their flip-flops for skates.
There were familiar faces and plenty of new ones but owner, president, and head coach Doug Quinn is happy with what he’s seen so far from his squad.
“Obviously it’s the first skate for us to see the players, see the kids we had last year and see the growth and some of the young guys we’ve recruited,” Quinn said.
From the players who were on the Bulldogs last season, Quinn could already see growth in some of their games, which is what they were hoping for.
“Last year for most of the kids we had it was their first year playing junior and now they’re coming back as veterans and I was happy with the growth that I saw,” he added.
The Bulldogs brought in enough players for the weekend to form two teams and those invited to training camp Quinn said are those they feel will either be on the team this year or in the next year or two. For the young players who haven’t played at the AJHL level, it can be an adjustment but Quinn said that’s why it’s important to be patient. Some of the players are as young as 16 and as old as 20, which can be a big difference in terms of size, and strength.
“I think for us, the kids that can make that adjustment quick and continue to get better usually they keep moving forward and sometimes kids just get to a certain level and they just can’t make that jump,” he said.
Friday the team went through fitness testing before playing the first intrasquad game. On Saturday the Bulldogs will practice before playing another scrimmage in the evening and a black versus white game on Sunday at 3 p.m. After that Quinn explained they’ll send the younger guys back to their teams but will take somewhere between 25 to 35 players into the exhibition matches.
“We’ve kind of penciled in some players and you know still have some spots that people are competing for so I think it’s important that everybody continue to work hard and get better,” Quinn explained.
What he expects out of the players on the ice this weekend is skill, players who work hard on the forecheck, and play a more aggressive game.
“It’s also important that we have balance as far as age in our lineup so we definitely have some younger guys that we’re going to keep and help them develop over the next couple of years,” he added.
The first exhibition game for Blackfalds is on Tuesday, Aug. 30 against Drayton Valley on the road at 7 p.m. and on Wednesday, Aug. 31 at home against Sherwood Park. The regular season will kick off on Sept. 16 when the Bulldogs head to Olds to take on the Grizzlys. The Bulldogs will play their home opener on Sept. 23 against Camrose at Eagle Builders Centre at 7 p.m.
Just a year removed from elimination at the hands of the Okotoks Oilers in the playoffs the Bulldogs hope to improve this year.
“Last year was a big learning experience for everybody in this organization, the players, the coaches. We felt comfortable with some of the changes that we made and we’re looking at taking that next step.”