After spending the majority of the past decade as head coach of the Red Deer Optimist Chiefs midget hockey team Doug Quinn has an idea what type of player will have success at the junior A level.
That knowledge has been a benefit as he looks to put together the initial roster of the newest Alberta Junior Hockey League team, the Blackfalds Bulldogs.
“Having coached midget I had a feel for the top players and what they look like at that level and have a working knowledge of how those kids translate to the next level,” he said. “It gave me, and the rest of our group, an understanding of the type of players we need.”
Quinn, who won five provincial titles, three Pacific crowns and two Telus Cup national championships while with the Chiefs, has signed 16 players so far as they prepare for the 2021-22 season.
The biggest concern Quinn, and his staff, had going into the recruiting process was how many players would be available.
He admits the pandemic may have helped in that area.
“When first started I wasn’t sure what it would look like, but in a round-about way Covid may have helped as a lot of kids who would probably be playing junior weren’t … they were back in midget and gave us an opportunity to reach out to them and sign them,” Quinn explained.
Al Parada, director of hockey operations, got an opportunity to watch a few live games early in the season, but the majority of the recruiting has been from video.
“I watched a lot of video and talked with a lot of coaches, scouts and agents just to get a feel of what’s out there,” Quinn said.
Like the midget program Quinn isn’t looking strictly for talent.
“Not necessarily the top 20 most talents kids. Sure we want talent but we need guys to provide energy provide a physical side,” he said. “We need a balance, a lot like my midget teams. I think I can coach a similar style where we make sure we have depth and balance on all four lines and can roll four lines, all on whom play with energy.”
Quinn has also watched a lot of video on the rest of the AJHL and feels, despite being young, they’ll be competitive.
“I think we have a feel of what everybody has and although we might be younger, I expect to be competitive from the get-go. I don’t know exactly where we’ll sit but we will be competitive.”
The majority of the signed players are 17 with “a couple” younger and older players.
“We have one kid who will be 16 and a couple who will 17,” he said. “We’re still rounding out the lineup, but we’re not expecting a lot of experienced players as the majority are already playing junior.”
Quinn indicated that later this spring there may be a few players available, but “we’ll see.”
It seemed appropriate that the Bulldogs first signing was former Chiefs captain Kaiden Ellertson.
“I did have a little inside knowledge on him,” Doug said with a laugh. “He was arguably our best defenceman last year. I know what type of kid he is and that he wants to be a hockey player and comes to play every day.
“We didn’t sign him because he was from central Alberta, but what he brings. He has a lot of ability and leadership. The type of player we want to build the team around.”
Quinn has recruited across Canada and even picked up a pair of players from the Anaheim Jr. Ducks U18AAA program in California.
“Adam West, who is our assistant GM, spent four years with Penticton in the BC Junior League and he has working knowledge of the kids. We contacted them and now they’re part of our group.”
Because of Covid, Quinn hasn’t been able to talk with the recruits face-to-face.
“A lot of Zoom calls,” he said. “We sent packages out, followed that up with Zoom calls giving them an idea of the program we’re building.”
As for the new arena it’s on schedule to be opened in September.
“We’re promised the keys Sept. 1 and ready for our home opener in mid-September.”
The interest in the team is high.
“We’ve received tremendous interest and support from Blackfalds, and all of central Alberta for that matter,” Quinn said. “We have about 400 deposits for season tickets already.
“I believe we’ll provide a very entertaining product and it’s going to be a great facility to watch a game. We also have invested in a jumbotron.”
Quinn still has four offers out to recruits plus he hopes to hold a development camp in May at the Red Deer Servus Arena.
“We’re hoping. I will be smaller than some as we’ll have about 45 players. Those who will be part of our team this year and those with a good opportunity to be with us next year or the year after.”
One thing Quinn stresses is that he wants to develop players to move on to the next level.
“Our goal is to recruit kids with the ability and potential to go on to the NCAA or to get a scholarship,” he said. We hope to have kids for two or three years to get them ready to move on.”
While Quinn is Mr. Everything, he has great supporting cast with Parada, West and Jodie Schreiner, who spent 13 years with the Calgary Flames organization.
“She has a wealth of knowledge on the hockey side and has been outstanding in building a business model and taking care of social media and building the brand.”
Goaltending coach Peter Friestadt and along-time assistant coaches Rob Hamill and Mike Moller help fill out the staff.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at email@example.com.