It’s been a season full of ups and downs for the Blackfalds Bulldogs.
Despite all the trials and tribulations of the first 31 games of the Alberta Junior Hockey League season, the Bulldogs are in third place and are riding a five-game win streak.
Head coach Doug Quinn said he’s pleased with the way his team has played.
“We knew coming into this season we wanted to continue to improve and consistently be one of the top teams in the league,” he said.
The Bulldogs are fresh off their best season yet where they finished near the top of their division and reached the third round of the playoffs losing to the Brooks Bandits in the league semi-finals.
They had a hot start to the 2023-24 campaign holding onto first place in the AJHL for some time.
A big reason for that was an 11-game winning streak that carried into late October.
However, the Bulldogs suffered a pair of setbacks that forced them to reshape their identity.
They lost forward Dakota McIntosh to the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Western Hockey League after he led the AJHL with 34 points in 17 games.
They also lost forward Edward Moskowitz to a season-ending ACL injury in November. Moskowitz was a key contributor before the injury notching 35 points in 22 games.
The circumstances caused the Bulldogs to slide into a bit of a funk. They struggled to win multiple games in a row and even lost five straight games in November.
“We had to adjust how we played,” Quinn said. “We were one of the top-scoring teams and now we’re focused more on our defensive game.”
Since their adjustments, the Bulldogs have rallied to win five straight games as of Thursday.
In the absence of their top missing players, the Bulldogs have seen a rise in productivity from others including forward Brendan Ross. The third-year forward has amassed 50 points in 31 games which leads the AJHL.
Second-year forward Layne Loomer has also had a solid sophomore season notching 36 points in 27 games.
“[Ross] has taken his game to a whole new level and he’s leading the league in points,” Quinn added.
“Over the last couple of years, he’s probably been considered more of a defensive centreman but now his offensive game’s evolved.”
Their depth has been a strength so far this year and Quinn said in junior hockey it’s key to have new guys step up because of the player turnover every season.
“Every year you’re going to be turning over potentially a third of your team. You need those guys who’ve gained experience and played a year or two. Now it’s their time to be the leaders,” he said.
“It’s good we have some young guys now and good veteran leadership. They’re learning what it takes to play at this level and when it’s their opportunity they need to take advantage of it.”
With 31 games remaining, the Bulldogs are poised for their third straight trip to the postseason since their inaugural year in 2021-22.
Quinn said they’re focused on continuing to build and giving their younger players more opportunities on the ice.
“We need to continue to focus on some of the details and cut out some of the mistakes. We just want to continue to develop everybody so that we’re peaking at the right time.”