The new head coach for the Jr. A Alberni Valley Bulldogs wants his team to win a B.C. Hockey League division title for the 2019-2020 season.
The Bulldogs have been busy this summer, recruiting new players and bolstering the coaching staff with head coach Joe Martin, assistant coach Brandon Shaw and goalie coach Jamie McCaig. The team was also sold this summer, to Keycorp Sports & Entertainment Ltd., and signed an extension with the City of Port Alberni to keep the team at the Alberni Valley Multiplex until 2024.
Martin, who has been adjusting from his move to Port Alberni from Merritt, is optimistic about the upcoming season.
“We want to win the division this year,” said Martin. “Winning, that’s always a goal, but the big thing that I’m striving to work for with these guys is goal setting and accountability. We believe [the division title] is attainable.”
Last season, the Bulldogs went 21-34-3-0 and were knocked out of the first round of the BCHL playoffs by the Victoria Grizzlies in a four-game sweep. In March, former head coach Matt Hughes announced his resignation.
This season, Martin is emphasizing “hard skill” for his players.
“We’re big on team speed, guys that play with passion,” he said. “The word ‘skilled’ gets thrown around too much these days. We want hard skill. Guys that are good with the puck, that are very hard to play against. That’s the biggest compliment a team can get.”
Martin doesn’t follow any particular system, but gives his players concepts and guidelines that they can be creative with.
“It’s okay to paint outside the lines,” he said. “I’ve got to motivate and push their play, to try more and do more and find out what their limit is. But I don’t want to hold them back.
“We will have stumbles, that’s quite okay,” he added. “We want to decrease the repercussions on the ice. That’s our philosophy—you have a concept and want to be exceptionally hard to play against.”
Martin also emphasizes the importance of education for BCHL players.
“We’re very blessed here with the help from Tom McEvay,” he said. “And the teachers, guidance counsellors, colleges. With everybody that pitches in, we’re very lucky.
“We want every player in some form of education,” he added. “Right now every player is.”
Several Bulldogs players are already committed to colleges after their BCHL career. Martin says he expects to have five or six more commitments by the end of the season.
Main camp started on Monday, Aug. 19 with fitness testing and team practices. Home exhibition games will take place on Thursday, Aug. 22 (7 p.m.) against the Powell River Kings, Friday, Aug. 23 (2 p.m.) against the Powell River Kings and Saturday, Aug. 24 (7 p.m.) against the Cowichan Valley Capitals. This will be followed by two away exhibition games before the 2019-2020 regular season gets underway.
Main camp started with 43 players, and Martin has to cut this down to 23 players by the end of exhibition.
“I’m big on getting the group together as fast as possible,” he said. “We’ll be quick to decrease that number.”
The first few exhibition games, said Martin, will provide experience for new players, but also provide an opportunity for returning and veteran players to prove that they can play.
“Some of these players that are returning are going to be challenged, feel challenged for their position,” he said.
Martin expects some of the returning veterans, such as Jackson Doucet, Mitch Deelstra and Grayson Valente, to have career years.
“They should have the experience now to show leadership,” he said. “To really lead this team the right way.”
By the time the team hits the road for the final two exhibition games, Martin said, the goal will be about winning and “gelling” as a team.
Tickets for the upcoming exhibition games at the Alberni Valley Multiplex are just $5 for adults and $2 for children and youth. Tickets are available online or at the box office.