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Matthew Welsh is a bright young man.
He figured out the importance of a good education early on, thanks to a supportive family, while excelling in the crease as a hockey goalie.
“School always came first. If I wasn’t performing in the classroom, I wasn't going to be going to sports,” he said. “If I was sick one day, and I couldn't go to school, there was no chance I was going to hockey practice later that night.”
The Charlottetown Islanders veteran won the Marcel-Robert Trophy as the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's (QMJHL) scholastic player of the year this season after being a finalist in 2017-18. The Halifax native, who turns 20 in July, recently was presented with one of the three Guy Lafleur Awards of Excellence and Merit by the Montreal Canadiens.
Welsh posted a 32-19-2-3 record this season with a 2.90 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage. He maintained a 90 per cent average in his second year studying business at UPEI.
“There’s a lot of tough things that come along with being a goalie in major junior hockey, especially mentally,” Welsh said. “It can be very hard at points. For me, school takes a step back from that.”
While hockey is important to Welsh and he wants to go as far as he can with the sport, he also realizes he spends three hours of the day at the rink.
“I like to get away from hockey,” he said.
Sometimes that includes schoolwork or hanging out with friends and playing video games.
Before major junior hockey, Welsh was unsure where his future would take him. One thing that was crystal clear was his academics.
“I knew one thing and that is education was going to be a constant,” he said. “I knew I was going to get a degree.”
He had options to go to prep school and was talking with Division 1 schools south of the border. The Islanders selected him in the second round of the 2015 draft and he signed with the team, making the squad as a 16-year-old rookie.
“The big thing for me was the school package that the CHL (Canadian Hockey League) provides,” Welsh said. “Coming into the CHL, and having that school package, is kind of a dream come true.”
Generally, a player receives a year of tuition for each season they play in the QMJHL.
“That was really big for my family and I,” Welsh said. “I could have pursued NCAA and see if I could have got a scholarship that way but there were no guarantees with that. I knew by signing with Charlottetown I wouldn't have to worry about at least the financial side of a post-secondary degree.”
Welsh has an older and younger brother. Older brother Nick played four QMJHL seasons with Shawinigan and one with Moncton. The defenceman was named a second team all-Canadian and a member of the U Sports all-rookie team this season after scoring at a point-per-game clip with the Saint Mary’s Huskies.
Younger brother Zach, also a defenceman, was a second-round pick of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles at Saturday’s QMJHL draft in Quebec City.
Matthew said his parents – Christina and Chris – invested a lot of time and money to allow the three to play hockey at a high level. That investment will see them get a good education through the sport they love.
“Education has always been of high value in my family,” Matthew said.
Islanders head coach Jim Hulton has called Welsh a terrific role model on and off the ice. He has also used him as a perfect example when meeting with families to alleviate any of their concerns about education and major junior hockey.
Matthew hasn’t determined what his major will be but is leaning toward accounting or finance. The Halifax West High School grad plans on getting his master of business administration and seeing what the future holds for him after his completing his junior career this season the Islanders.
Need to know
Guy Lafleur Awards of Excellence and Merit
What – An award recognizing hockey performance and academic excellence that is presented annually by the Montreal Canadiens.
History – The program was introduced in 1985 to encourage sports and academic excellence for players competing in all three major amateur hockey leagues in the province of Quebec; the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, member schools of the Canadian university sports in Quebec (U Sports) and the Quebec Junior Hockey League (QJAAAHL).
Financial assistance – The university and major junior winners each receive a $6,000 scholarship over a three-year period while the QJAAAHL winner receives a $1,000 scholarship.
Did you know? Matthew Welsh isn’t the first member of the Charlottetown Islanders to win the award. The Guardian was unable to obtain a complete list of previous winners but saw Concordia Stingers defenceman Carl Neill won the university award during the 2017-18 season. Neill played for the Islanders as an overager in 2017.