From the Bulldogs to the Falcons: Alberni Valley and Bentley University

After the 2021-22 season, three members of the Alberni Valley Bulldogs left for the same NCAA school. Forwards Stephen Castagna, Arlo Merritt, and defender Ryan Nause all currently play for the Bentley University Falcons.

It’s not all that uncommon for players to play together at the same school. Karter McNarland is set to join former Kings teammate Dylan Finlay at the University of Alaska-Anchorage next season. However, it is unique that Nause, Merritt, and Castagna made their commitments to the Falcons around the same time. Also, they aren’t the first Bulldogs to attend Bentley University either.

After the 2018-19 season, defender Marcus Walter headed to the Bentley campus and now serves as captain of the men’s Falcons team. For this article, I’ll profile the four Bulldogs playing together for the Falcons. Before that though, let’s look at the school itself and the Falcons men’s hockey team.

Going to The Watch City

Based in Waltham, MA, Bentley University was founded in 1917. The school is a private university that focuses on business, accounting, and finance.

The school has 23 men’s and women’s varsity teams and other than men’s hockey, they all compete in NCAA Division II athletics. The men’s hockey team competes at the NCAA Division I level.

The men’s hockey club received varsity status for the 1977-78 season and until 1998, was a Division II team. After 1998, the Falcons joined the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference to play NCAA Division I hockey.

Ryan Soderquist has served as the men’s hockey head coach since 2002. He was a former player that returned to coach the men’s team after graduating.

Walter and Nause

Walter played one season in the BCHL, spending 2018-19 in Port Alberni. Before that, he was with the North American Hockey League’s Springfield Jr. Blues in 2017-18 and the Drayton Valley Thunder of the Alberta Junior Hockey League from 2015-17.

While with the Bulldogs, the defender had three goals and 13 assists in 51 games. He added two goals in four playoff games in 2019. In his first NCAA season at Bentley, Walter scored five points in 28 games.

Walter’s path to Bentley is interesting. While in Springfield, he committed to the Falcons, and then in June 2018, Drayton Valley traded his junior A rights to the Bulldogs. After his lone season in Alberni Valley, the Dogs traded Walter to the Notre Dame Hounds of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League in June 2019.

However, instead of returning for his final season of junior hockey in 2019-20, Walter played his 20-year-old season at Bentley.

As for Nause, he played two seasons in Alberni Valley from 2020 through 2022. Before that, Nause spent a season with the AJHL’s Lloydminster Bobcats.

In July 2020, the Bobcats sent Nause to the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Swan Valley Stampeders as part of a three-player deal. Four months later, the Stamps shipped Nause to the Bulldogs for future considerations.

In November 2021, Nause committed to Bentley and finished the 2021-22 season with 19 points in 39 games for Alberni Valley.

Merritt and Castagna

In a past article, I wrote about Merritt’s path to Alberni Valley after he was part of a 2022 trade deadline deal between the Coquitlam Express and the Bulldogs. Merritt committed to Bentley while he was playing for Coquitlam.

As for Castagna, he played parts of five seasons with the Bulldogs and amassed 124 points in 191 games. During his final junior season of 2021-22, he notched 51 points in 53 games as Alberni Valley’s captain.

Since joining the Falcons as a rookie this season, Castagna is one of the top scorers for Bentley.

In 33 games as of this writing, Castagna has seven goals and eight assists. Merritt is also in the Falcons’ top ten in scoring with five goals and seven assists in 28 games as of this writing.

More BCHL connections

Joining the four Bulldogs alumni on the Falcons is former Express forward Danny Pearson, who played three seasons in Coquitlam before heading to Bentley. Also on Bentley’s roster is former BCHLer Matt Gosiewski, who played a single season in Wenatchee before heading to the Waltham, MA campus.

Other former BCHL players on Bentley’s roster include Ryan Upson, Tanner Main, Lucas Vanroboys, and Pat Lawn. All told, there are 17 players on the Falcons who played in the BC Hockey League.

While Bentley recruits extensively from the BCHL, it has recruited more players from the Bulldogs than any other team. It’s a trend that is likely to continue in future seasons.