Monday, March 17, 2014

A Look Back At The 2013-14 Season

By Kevin Chambers | @SNCanucklehead
SN Staff

As another season of Saint John Sea Dogs hockey draws to a close, let's take a look back at the season that was and look ahead to the future that has yet to come.

The 2013-14 season was filled with ups and downs along with a lot of new faces and the connecting of new names to numbers we often associate with previous players. One thing became clear throughout this season - changes were coming and more are yet to come.

Armed with a very young squad, the Sea Dogs actually had a good year all things considered. This despite missing the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07. This season the Sea Dogs finished with a record of 19-44-2-3 for a total of 43 points while last season their record was 23-44-1-0 for a total of 47 points.

On the surface you may think they took a step backwards this season having four less wins and four less points overall. However, the Sea Dogs actually did improve over last season. We often hear about teams being in Year 1 or Year 2 of their rebuilding phase, but it really should be looked at as more of a Phase 1, Phase 2, etc.

Looking back at the 2012-13 season, Saint John began the year having players like Jonathan Huberdeau, Ryan Tesink, Stephen MacAulay, and Kevin Gagne who were key contributors to the team’s success over the previous three unbelievable campaigns. At this point the rebuilding phase hadn’t even begun because these most valuable assets were still playing for the club.

Phase 1 - this phase truly began when the trade period opened over the Christmas break last season.  During this phase Saint John moved out Gagne, MacAulay, and Tesink along with Aidan Kelly and Benjamin Hade. These players would be dealt for draft picks in both the 2013 and 2014 QMJHL Entry Drafts. With the NHL returning to action the Florida Panthers decided to keep Huberdeau in the NHL so ultimately he would begin and end his QMJHL career as a Sea Dog, meaning Saint John would end up with no return for the most valuable asset the club has ever had.

By comparison, the final 30 games after these players were all dealt saw the 2012-13 Sea Dogs compile a record of 5-24-1-0 for a total of 11 points. Meanwhile, the 2013-14 squad managed to post a record of 9-19-2-0 for a total of 20 points. The second part of the 2012-13 season is the part of the year that should be focused on when trying to compare this season versus last.

Phase 2 - the QMJHL Entry Draft and CHL Import Draft combined for Phase 2 of the rebuild. The Sea Dogs had an excellent QMJHL Entry Draft and used the picks they acquired during the trade period wisely. Some of the picks acquired at the deadline were involved - at least in part – in adding some key young players to the Sea Dogs roster for the 2013-14 season. Those picks turned into Nathan Noel, Will Thompson, Samuel Dove-McFalls, and Mathieu Joseph - all of whom saw plenty of playing time with the Sea Dogs this past season. Some of the picks acquired at the deadline were 2014 draft picks. Saint John also added a key cog on the defense when they drafted Thomas Chabot who is proving to be an absolute steal in the second-round. Saint John had several other players spend time with the team this season from this draft including Joey Richard, Alexander McQuaid, and Antoine Landry who all started the year with the club. Bailey Webster gained some valuable experience getting into seven games while Christopher Smith got his first QMJHL game in and won.

The 2013 CHL Import Draft was not so successful. The Sea Dogs had the ninth overall selection and drafted Juraj Siska. The Siska selection was a known risk after he suffered a serious spinal cord injury just prior to the World Under-18 tournament last spring. Siska did report to Saint John and practiced with the team but was ultimately returned to his native Slovakia after further testing revealed he would not be able to play for the remainder of the season. Siska had the potential but the risk didn’t pan out this season for the player or the club.

Phase 3 - the third phase in the rebuilding process was getting the product on the ice for the 2013-14 season - the first real full season of the rebuild. Some key departures, including Pierre Durepos who spent his entire QMJHL career with the club, were felt the most. The season began with some promise after flirting with the .500 mark for a month. But then the Sea Dogs hit a losing streak that would be tough to bounce back from.

The first big news of the season came on October 29th when it was announced that Sea Dogs General Manager and Head Coach Mike Kelly had been relieved of his duties. That began a long quest to find a new GM for the team. Ross Yates was named Head Coach along with, for the time being, shared duties as the club's GM which he split with the team’s Head Scout, Christian Vermette.

The Christmas trade period came again and there was plenty of speculation regarding star goaltender Sebastien Auger. Despite all the rumours and speculation regarding Auger he would remain with the team. The only trade during this period was with the Rimouski Oceanic, bringing in former first-round draft pick Nicolas Hebert. Hebert has seen his production triple since joining the Sea Dogs although his was not getting as much ice time on a very good Oceanic squad.

January 31st was one of the most memorable games of the year when Sebastien Auger pulled his own version of Scrivens by posting a 53-save shutout win over the offensive juggernaut Val-d’Or Foreurs. The Sea Dogs won the game 2-0 in one of the best performances by a Sea Dog goaltender ever.

The long process of searching for a quality GM came to an end on February 13th when the club announced they had hired long time NHL scout and Halifax native Darrell Young. This will be Young’s second stint in the QMJHL after spending some time with the Moncton Wildcats between 2000-2002. Young definitely has fans excited about the team and the direction they are heading. Young has already implied that changes will be coming and he has very good contacts throughout the hockey world.

Unfortunately, not all news would be positive. Just days after signing their new GM, the Sea Dogs lost a family member. Mike McGraw, the clubs Vice President and a huge fan of the team, passed away on February 16th unexpectedly. Mike was a huge part of not just the Sea Dogs but the entire city of Saint John and it was a passing that was felt across the entire community.

March 1st saw another special moment for Auger as he set a new franchise record for career wins by a Sea Dog goaltender after picking up his 51st victory. Unfortunately this win would be the last victory for the Sea Dogs as they ended the season on a seven-game losing streak.

March 15th saw the last game of the 2013-14 season come and go as the Sea Dogs fell 6-2 to the Charlottetown Islanders. In a classy move by the Islanders they recognized all the overage players including Island native Jason Cameron as well as David Weckworth and Lukas Walter.

As a team overall, the Sea Dogs have improved and will continue to improve. We as fans of the team have some exciting times ahead with Darrell Young as GM and Ross Yates getting a full season behind the bench. The future is bright for this team and it will continue to get brighter at the 2014 QMJHL Draft.

Photo: Marc Henwood/Station Nation

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