Alberni Valley Bulldogs’ head coach Joe Martin reacts as his team pressures Nanaimo Clippers during the second period of Game 4 in their B.C. Hockey League Island Division semi-final on Thursday, March 5, 2020. The Bulldogs were eliminated from the playoffs in a 2-1 loss. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

BCHL: Alberni Valley Bulldogs’ coach looks back on the team’s 2019-20 season

From an ammonia leak closing their rink to losing both goalies to illness, season was an odd one

Alberni Valley Bulldogs’ coach Joe Martin’s first season in Port Alberni with the B.C. Hockey League can go into the books as one weird season.

Martin, who came to the Bulldogs 11 months ago from Merritt Centennials with a “Coach of the Year” title, was behind the bench last week as the Nanaimo Clippers swept the Bulldogs in four straight games in the opening series of the BCHL Island Division playoffs.

READ: Bulldogs eliminated from playoffs after 2–1 loss to Nanaimo Clippers

“I don’t know the answers of what you can do,” he said about the team’s strange season.

The Bulldogs came out strong, but a three-week pause when the brand new ice plant at the AV Multiplex malfunctioned and the facility was closed for repairs interrupted their groove. The team was forced to practice in Parksville, rescheduled games, played one game in Campbell River and another in Parksville. They were still playing rescheduled games late into February.

READ: Alberni Valley hockey games postponed due to ammonia leak

Martin acquired a few new players near the league trade deadline, such as 20-year-old Matthew Grouchy, River Fahey and Mattias Dal Monte, and traded young defenceman Carson Hemingway, who wasn’t getting a lot of ice time.

He still wonders if the moves paid off, after watching the team leave the playoffs so early. “It’s a fair question,” he said.

“We didn’t have to move anybody out to get them. We were carrying only 21 players at the time, so we were able to add Dal Monte, we were able to add Grouchy.

“There weren’t players leaving our dressing room or leaving our group that had significant impact. It’s right around the time we started to lose both goalies, so I think the two are very closely linked on the reason when things started to go the other way.”

The team’s final road trip to Trail, Penticton and Merritt was played with AP (affiliated player) goaltenders, as regulars Luke Pearson and Jackson Glassford were both sick.

“On the injury front you can get affiliates, bring up guys you want to be part of your culture and part of your group going forward, and try and get them some experience. You need your other guys to rise to the occasion when players are out,” Martin said. “The hardest is in net.”

READ: Alberni Valley Bulldogs hire BCHL Coach of the Year

The Bulldogs had a fairly young squad this year, and will only lose a handful of players, like their four 20-year-olds—team captain Mitch Deelstra, Jackson Doucet, Ryan Doolin and Grouchy, as well as Jackson Munro, who will play with Brown University next season. “Everyone else is eligible to come back,” Martin said.

”There’s always a little bit of change, players that believe they can do more and we don’t have the right opportunity for them, or players that we maybe disagree with on where they’re at and trying to find them the right opportunity.”

That still leaves 18 players. Martin looks at the Clippers and where they were at in 2018-19, and sees some similarities. “They were exactly the same thing last year: a younger group that was gaining experience through winning and losing, and then a very solid group that just came back and beat us. It’s a lesson our guys will have to learn.”

Martin still has two years left on his contract with the Bulldogs, and is eager to look ahead to next year. “I’m extremely happy that we did come (to Port Alberni). You don’t want it to end ever. At the same time, there’s such a good group of staff and such a good group of kids, the community support here is second to none.

“You want to keep going so that everybody can enjoy it and everybody can keep this good thing going. It’s a great place to be, it’s a great place to play, it’s a great place to live.”

Others involved with the team agree with him. “Though the year didn’t end great, it was a great season considering all the hurdles the team had,” colour commentator Bruce MacDonald wrote in a social media post the morning after the Bulldogs were eliminated.

“Looking forward to next season. Thanks for putting a great product on the ice and on the bench.”

Bulldogs, grads excelling at school

Austin Spiridakis earned High School Player of the Month for the B.C. Hockey League in February. The award is for players 18 or younger who are attending high school full time; their selection is based on in-class and on-ice performance.

Spiridakis, 17 and in his second BCHL season, earned six points in the final nine regular-season games for the Bulldogs, including a couple of multi-point games. Off the ice, he has been taking online courses from St. Gabriel High School in his hometown of St. Albert, Alta. and getting marks in the 90s in subjects such as Calculus, English and Physics.

Spiridakis has committed to Quinnipiac University.

Keaton Mastrodonato, a top scorer for the Bulldogs in 2018-2019 who now plays for Canisius College in the NCAA, was named Atlantic Hockey Rookie of the Week and Rookie of the Month. Mastrodonato picked up three points in helping Canisius sweep Mercyhurst in the teams’ final regular season series of the 2019-20 season.

Mastrodonato was the top freshmen scorer in Atlantic Hockey in February, leading Canisius with five goals and four assists for nine points.

BCHL, Alberni Valley Bulldogsjunior hockeyPort Alberni

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Keaton Mastrodonato, centre, scored twice to lead the Alberni Valley Bulldogs to a 6–3 win over Salmon Arm Silverbacks on Jan. 18, 2019 at the AV Multiplex. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

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