Brandin Cote entered this Alberta Midget AAA Hockey League season with the impossible task of filling Doug Quinn’s shoes.
This weekend their season came to an end in an unfamiliar early fashion. The Chiefs (11-18-5) finished seventh in the South Division, three points out of a playoff spot thanks to a 3-2 loss to the Strathmore Bisons (17-12-5) on Friday and a 3-0 loss to the St. Albert Raiders (18-9-7) on Sunday.
But Cote is not putting the season on the weekend, instead a campaign fraught with inconsistent play.
“We could have won two games at the start of the year and that would have given us the points too,” said Cote.
“The bottom line is we had an up and down year, there was a lot of transition, in terms of the players that we have and just getting used to the coaching staff. We started the season off slow and that cost us …
“At the end of the day, we didn’t have enough guys willing to do what it takes to win.”
Andrew Kartusch and Ryley Smith scored for Red Deer on Friday while Cole Sears made 21 saves in the loss.
In Sunday’s shut out defeat that drove home the final nail on their season, Branden Bilodeau allowed on goal on 20 shots in 30 minutes while Sears let in two goals on 11 shots over the final period-and-a-half.
In the end, they finished three points behind the Calgary Flames (11-15-8) for the final playoff spot in the South Division.
Cote knew he was going to have his work cut out for him when he signed on to take over a program that Quinn had turned into a juggernaut.
The season can essentially be broken down into three segments: Transition, positive momentum, and the great fall.
It took the Chiefs the first 18 games of the season to really adapt to Cote’s style and demands. It took players a while to really buy into what was expected of them and Cote’s systems and it added up to a 4-9-5 start.
But as the calendar turned to December, the Chiefs looked like a different team. With wins over top teams like the Calgary Buffaloes and the Sherwood Park Kings, it looked like the Chiefs were finally turning into the team that Cote envisioned and they went 6-2-0 in their next eight games.
A 1-7-0 finish to the season, however, buried them, snuffing out hope of a playoff spot.
Making the result more frustrating was the inconsistent play against good teams and bad teams — they played their best against the top clubs in the AMHL, but far too often came up short against the likes of the Flames and the Knights of Columbus Pats (9-22-3). Their one win in the final eight games was a 6-5 win over the Maple Leaf Athletic Club (3-28-3), the last place team in the entire league.
“The consistency definitely wasn’t there,” said Cote. “That was frustrating, especially when you did very well against a lot of the top teams … and I think it was more of a mental toughness thing for some of those kids to realize that the other teams are not going to lay over, there’s a target on our back, and that was communicated to them from the start.”
He points to his true measure of the season being the development of individual players with the likes of Ryan Vandervlis and Luke Coleman already off to the junior ranks.
Cote is hoping for a much smoother year in 2015-16 as he fully expects to be back behind the bench.
While he may not have all of his top eligible players back, he and his coaching staff did much of the heavy lifting as the club went through its transition. Players like defenceman Dayton Playford and forwards Tyrees Goodrunning and Regan Doig should help lay that foundation.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge of preparing for next year and learning to improve on the team results, but at the same time when I took this job, my main goal was to help develop kids,” said Cote. “The way I look at success as the coach at the midget AAA level is of course you want to win, but if I can look at kids moving on to junior and college and maybe some pro guys a few years down the road or just kids that have really developed into really good people … if I can look back and say ‘I have helped them in some shape or form’ then I’ve done my job.”