CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – Matthew Welsh was patient.
But after three playoffs games in his first two seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the Halifax native wanted to prove himself.
“Going into my 18-year-old season, I wanted to be that guy,” he said before Wednesday’s Charlottetown Islanders practice.
He was the backbone of the Isles’ magical run back to the semifinal in the spring. He had two stellar saves late in the second period of Game 7 of the first round against the Quebec Remparts, was crucial to Charlottetown winning the first two games of the second round against the Mooseheads in Halifax and allowed his team the time to win all three semifinal home games with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in overtime.
“It was huge for my confidence,” Welsh acknowledged. “I always dreamed of having the opportunity to play in the playoffs in this league.”
“He’s a playoff-proven veteran. . . The bigger the stage, the better he played and that's the sign of a great goalie.”
Charlottetown Islanders head coach Jim Hulton.
But the year didn’t play out entirely as he had hoped.
The five-foot-11 netminder has been passed over during the past two NHL drafts and has not been invited to an NHL team’s camp. Talent evaluators appear struck on height as the deciding factor of what makes a good goalie.
Welsh acknowledged it as an adversity, but said it was a huge honour to be one of four goalies invited to Team Canada’s world junior camp this summer.
“To have the opportunity to try out for Canada’s . . . world junior team was huge for my confidence,” he said. “Being able to go there, and perform well, just showed me that I can play with some of the best players in the world.”
It comes as no surprise to Jim Hulton, who has coached Welsh since he arrived in major junior as a 16-year-old backup to Mason McDonald. He said he expects Welsh will win out in the long haul.
“He’s going to win people over the old fashion way – on merit,” he said. “He’s opened eyes at the world junior camp this summer.”
Welsh is likely to be on the radar for the CIBC Canada Russia Series this fall, and will be a key as the Islanders look to build on back-to-back semifinal appearances.
“He’s an enormous presence for our franchise. For me, he’s a foundation player,” Hulton said. “Our success or failure starts with him.”
Hulton said Welsh has a calm demeanor, which serves him well between the pipes, and he gives his team confidence with his play. He’s mature and a bright academic student.
“To me, he’s a pro,” his bench boss said, noting Welsh portrays qualities of men five and six years older than him. “He’s a student of the game and he really works on his craft.”
Welsh is always thinking team-first.
While he doesn’t wear a letter on his jersey, he is undoubtedly one of the squad’s leaders. He wants the team to be successful and believes it can be, but it will take everybody pulling in the same direction.
“We had a lot of character on our team last year and I think that's one of the reasons we were so successful,” he said. “If we can get the new guys to buy into playing those hard-fought games, I think we’re going to have that success again this year.”
It will take a lot of hard work and a realization the team is not going to out-skill opponents.
“If we can find that understanding in the room this year, I think we’re going to have a lot of success,” Welsh said.
Need to know
Who – A fourth-year member of the Charlottetown Islanders.
Age, hometown – A 19-year-old Halifax native.
Height/weight/position – A five-foot-11, 181-pound goalie.
Did you know? Welsh earned a shutout in his first game in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. It was a 5-0 win over the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015.
Welsh said: “It seems like it was yesterday, but three years have gone by pretty fast. . . There’s so many great memories that I have from being here that will stick with me for a lifetime.”
Season GP W L SO GAA SAV%
2015-16 26 12 13 2 3.20 .904
2016-17 38 24 14 3 3.24 .899
2017-18 54 31 22 3 2.76 .907
2015-16 1 0 0 0 0 1.000
2016-17 2 0 1 0 3.14 .852
2017-18 18 11 7 0 2.63 .918
The Charlottetown Islanders/P.E.I. Rocket have done well in their first games of the regular season since arriving in Charlottetown. They have nine wins, four losses, a shootout loss and a tie. Here’s a look back:
Moncton 3 at Charlottetown 1
Saint John 2 at Charlottetown 6
Halifax 3 at Charlottetown 4 SO
Saint John 2 at Charlottetown 3 SO
Halifax 2 at Charlottetown 5
Moncton 2 at P.E.I. 6
Halifax 6 at P.E.I. 5 SO
P.E.I. 4 at Saint John 6
Moncton 1 at P.E.I. 2
P.E.I. 2 at Moncton 8
Halifax 5 at P.E.I. 2
P.E.I. 5 at St. John’s 2
St. John’s 3 at P.E.I. 4
Halifax 1 at P.E.I. 1
P.E.I. 4 at Cape Breton 0