On April 2, 2011, a 20-year-old Justin Dowling stepped onto the ice for only the second home game of his pro career. Despite the home side overtaking the visitors, both teams were scoreless as they entered the final frame. With the home side in the playoffs, they desperately needed a difference maker. That difference maker came in the form of the newly signed WHL’s Swift Current Broncos graduate. Under the lights of the Abbotsford Center Justin Dowling scored his first professional goal and won the game for the Abbotsford Heat.
3,619 days later, under the same Abbotsford lights, the now-experienced Dowling scored his 100th career AHL goal, this time on the Canucks green. Now, on March 18, 2023, Dowling will hit another major milestone at Abbotsford Center: 500 career AHL games played.
“It’s been a long journey,” Dowling said.
The Alberta native started his pro career in March 2011 with the Abbotsford Heat after scoring 67 points in 63 games in his final season in the WHL. After a quick season and a half with the Abbotsford Heat, Dowling signed with the Texas Stars in 2012 and traveled south to Austin to prove himself at the Lone Star State.
In Dowling’s first season in Texas, he had 30 points in 38 games and finished the season with a plus-minus rating of 16. Dowling quickly caught the attention of the big club and signed with the Dallas Stars in 2014, where he made his NHL debut in 2016. His next few seasons in the AHL as a star quickly followed.
In eight seasons with the Dallas Star affiliate, Dowling had 306 points with 97 goals and 209 assists.
For Dowling, the most notable parts of his career are the people he met along the way and how they influenced him and his career.
In 2014, he and his teammates became the first-ever Calder Cup champions for the Texas Stars, where Dowling scored one point per game in the playoffs. In his fifth and final playoff appearance with the Stars in 2018, Dowling, now team captain, led them to the Calder Cup Finals a second time, eventually losing to the Toronto Marlies in game seven.
“Winning a championship really brought me closer to a lot of people and being able to get back to the finals did the same. The more time you spend with someone when it’s about something meaningful, the better relationships can be built,” Dowling said.
Dowling moved to Austin, Texas at the age of twenty-one and realized how hard it was being on his own so far from home.
“Sometimes it’s tough, so you need support from the area.”
Dowling found that support among his teammates. While he still keeps in touch with many of the lifelong friends he made during his time with the Texas Stars, three names catch his eye. The Texas Stars’ current assistant coaches, Travis Morin and Max Fortunus, are two who helped Dowling in his early years. Travis, a similar player on the ice, did a lot for young Dowling, teaching him skills on and off the ice. As for Max, Dowling says he’s “the ultimate role model.” The third was Greg Rallo, ten years Dowling’s senior, who took the young star under his wing and often invited the newcomer to dinner with him and his family.
“These are the three guys who really tried to help me and make me comfortable being so far from home.”
Justin Dowling, who is now 12 years of professional football, hopes to be that kind of support for his younger teammates. Currently the oldest Abbotsford Canuck, at 32, it’s only natural that his role in the dressing room has shifted to that of a mentor. “I love it when the younger ones come and ask questions. I love being able to give them advice, whatever that might be,” he said.
Hockey advice comes naturally to most hockey players, but not everyone can share the invaluable off-ice lessons that Dowling can. He remembers what it was like to be a young player in the early years of his career who just wanted to spend time with his teammates and make lifelong friendships.
“As you get older, there’s a lot more (to life). Now it’s about paying bills,” he laughed.
Despite playing his 500th game where he started, Dowling’s life looks a little different coming into his second round at Abbotsford. At The Heat, Dowling’s warm-up routine consisted solely of hockey. With the Canucks, his warm-up routine now features his family. The father of two always stops by the glass to say hello to his wife and daughters before the game.
“It’s special to have her by the glass. It’s a great core memory for them.”
Like the rest of the people in the building, Dowling’s eldest daughter is a growing hockey fan.
“Seeing the guys on the ice is their favorite thing on earth. When she gets to the rink she can hang out with the guys, they all get along really well with (her). It’s definitely something special,” he said of his two-year-old.
“I know I have many more years in me. We have a younger team so they keep me young too,” he said. “I’m looking forward to more (games) with the other guys here.”