Alberni Valley Bulldogs' head coach looks back on successful season

Alberni Valley Bulldogs' head coach Joe Martin looks back on his team's successful B.C. Hockey League season.
Alberni Valley Bulldogs' head coach Joe Martin stands behind the Bulldogs' bench in Game 4 of the team's B.C. Hockey League Coastal Conference playoff series with Surrey Eagles on May 9, 2024.

Alberni Valley Bulldogs' head coach Joe Martin says he will always remember the junior hockey team's heart when he looks back at the 2023-24 B.C. Hockey League playoffs.

The Bulldogs made it to the Coastal Conference championship but lost in the seventh game to Surrey Eagles, who went on to win the BCHL's Fred Page Cup.

"Looking back on the playoffs it's hard for me to remember the season as a whole," Martin said shortly after the Bulldogs' final game of the season. "The playoffs said a lot about the team, how they came back in the first round, and against Surrey being down 3-1 and coming back and forcing Game 7."

He said the team as a whole demonstrated how much they wanted to win "and how much they wanted to win for each other. As a coach you're always striving to have a group like that. When you have that will inside the dressing room...when you have players of that talent...anything can happen."

Goaltender Callum Tung was often in the post-season spotlight for his stalwart performance between the pipes, but the 20-year-old was one of several standouts during the season. He is also one of several players who will be leaving the team, either by aging out or through commitments with post-secondary colleges and universities. Martin said he will still have a solid core of players by the time the BCHL training camps open on Sept. 1.

"There's always guys that are leaving due to age and guys that are leaving due to scholarships," he said. Players also decide to leave the team in the off-season for various other reasons.

"The way that I plan things is to always have a nucleus of guys coming back. I always have a handful of those guys coming back to pass it on."

Martin helped make some club history in February when he collected win No. 129 behind the Bulldogs' bench. That made him the winningest coach in the team's history, surpassing Kevin Willison.

The Bulldogs hired Martin in April 2019 from the Merritt Centennials, where he had been named BCHL Coach of the Year for 2018-19. Under Martin's leadership the Bulldogs have become known as one of the top programs in the BCHL. In 2021-22 they won the regular season pennant in the Coastal Conference and last season advanced to their first BCHL championship series after winning the Coastal Conference Cup.

"Joe Martin is one of the top coaches in the BCHL and (the Bulldogs) are lucky to have him," former club president David Michaud said. "It's been a great five years working with Joe. We navigated the lows of COVID and the highs of last season's run to the championship final. He's brought a level of consistency to this program that was really missing."

Martin said the accomplishment means a lot. "That award is basically being able to be around such good people and a great organization, and being able to recruit great players."

Martin said the BCHL's decision to leave BC Hockey and go independent after last season has elevated the level of hockey in the league. "We have easier access to better players. It's faster, players are more skilled. It's a faster game with better players," he said. "Guys now coming to our league...are even closer to going to college after a year or two. I think it's going to take another step next year. The successful season the BCHL had just shows that."

Martin has been busy recruiting in the off-season, attending a camp in Vancouver in late May and planning to attend another one at the end of June in Toronto. At the beginning of July he will have a better idea of who is coming for the Bulldogs' training camp in early September.

While Martin has been on the road scouting for next season's team, the Bulldogs changed ownership. The BCHL board of governors announced on June 3 that Olithan Sports & Entertainment Limited purchased a majority share in the team from Keycorp Sports & Entertainment. All other shareholders, including longtime Alberni Valley owners Stefanie Weber and Dennis See, remain in place.

The new owners signed a 10-year lease extension with the City of Port Alberni to continue using the Alberni Valley Multiplex for both Bulldogs and Port Alberni Bombers Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League games, and stated the teams will remain in Port Alberni.

Former Bulldogs' president David Michaud, who works for Keycorp, resigned his position with the Bulldogs and was subsequently named president of the Victoria Grizzlies of the BCHL. Keycorp Hockey Holdings was approved on June 3 as the majority owner of the Grizzlies.

"Finding a new group that was able to come in and build on the foundation of work we had done was really important to me," Michaud said before he left for Victoria. Michaud served as president of the Bulldogs for five years.

Susie Quinn

About the Author: Susie Quinn

A journalist since 1987, I proudly serve as the Echoofthemountain editor.
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