Halifax native is a proven playoff performer as Charlottetown gets set to begin post-season tonight against Cape Breton
Matthew Welsh is a workhorse who has a pedigree of rising to the occasion as the games become more important.
“I like to be in the net every chance I get for this team. I have been in this organization so long and they’ve given me a lot of opportunity. They have believed in me every step of the way,” he said before Wednesday’s practice. “To be put in big situations is what I play for, and I think it’s what we all play for.”
He will get his chance again tonight as he leads his Charlottetown Islanders onto the ice at the Eastlink Centre for Game 1 of their best-of-seven Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) playoff series with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
With the trade of Keith Getson in December, the 19-year-old Welsh became the franchise’s active leader in service time. The second-round pick in 2015 backed up Mason McDonald in his rookie season and Mark Grametbauer during the semifinal run two years ago.
He was given the ball in 2017-18 and ran with it.
He was unproven in the playoffs a year ago, but those questions were quickly answered as he was key in the Islanders seven-game victory over Quebec in Round 1, sweep of Halifax in the quarter-final and pushing the heavily favoured Blainville-Boisbriand Armada to seven games in the semifinal.
Defenceman Hunter Drew sums up what Welsh means to the club succinctly.
“Everything,” he said. “He’s probably the MVP hands down (again this year).”
He provides the team with a security blanket when mistakes do occur. The last line of defence is ready to make a key save to preserve a lead or keep the team in a game.
“Like all great goalies, at crucial, crucial moments in the game, he’s at his best,” head coach Jim Hulton said.
And while Welsh is key to the Islanders success, he can’t be expected to bail them out all the time.
“We know what he’s going to bring, but we can’t overtax him,” Hulton said. “He can’t be expected to stop five or six two-on-ones a night.”
Welsh used a deep playoff run to springboard into this season.
He led all QMJHL goalies by playing more than 3,300 minutes while compiling a 32-19-2-3 record.
Need to know
Who – The Charlottetown Islanders starting goalie. The 19-year-old Halifax native is in his fourth season in P.E.I.
Selected – Welsh was taken in the second round (37th overall) of the 2015 Quebec Major Junior Hockey league draft.
Season W L GAA SAV%
2015-16 12 13 3.20 .904
2016-17 24 14 3.24 .899
2017-18 31 22 2.76 .907
2018-19 32 24 2.90 .902
He won eight shootouts and those eight points were key in earning the Islanders home-ice advantage.
“He’s been our guy all season,” Hulton said. “In order for us to have success against higher-end teams we knew going into (this season) he was probably going to have to be a star and he didn't disappoint on many nights.”
Hulton and Welsh were rookies in Charlottetown the same year. They have grown together as the franchise has built a winning culture that was missing for much of its history.
“It’s amazing how far we’ve come,” Welsh said. “I remember in my 16-year-old season, it was a big deal (when) we made it to the second round. . .
“As the years have gone on, it’s become a higher standard where we kind of just expect to win and expect to be really good in the playoffs.”
After a busy year, Welsh said he is ready to begin another long playoff run.
“This is the time of the year that we play for,” he said. “All the summer training, all the regular season games, it all leads up to this. . .
“Playing for a President Cup is an honour and you only get so many chances to do it.”
A look at the Charlottetown Islanders-Cape Breton Screaming Eagles first-round playoff series.
Format – The teams will play a 2-2-1-1-1 series with Games 1 and 2 tonight and Saturday at the Eastlink Centre with a 7:30 p.m. start.
Can’t make it – The first two games will be live on Eastlink Community TV beginning at 7 p.m.
Previous playoff meeting – The Islanders swept the Screaming Eagles in the second round of the 2017 playoffs.
Islanders head coach Jim Hulton: “When you’re a little kid you look forward to the month of December leading up to Christmas, but for junior hockey players, playoffs is the best time of the year, and you can sense that around here.”
Islanders forward Jordan Maher on what it takes to have playoff success: “Everyone needs to buy in, everyone needs to know their role and sacrifice their body. It’s not going to be easy. We have to block shots, take hits, it’s going to be a war out there.”
Regular season records
Charlottetown – 40-21-4-3
Cape Breton – 40-22-1-5
Charlottetown – 233
Cape Breton – 267
Charlottetown – 211
Cape Breton – 214
Charlottetown – 16.4
Cape Breton – 20.8
Charlottetown – 78.9
Cape Breton – 77.8
Charlottetown – 21-8-2-3
Cape Breton – 20-10-0-4
Charlottetown – 19-13-2-0
Cape Breton – 20-12-1-1
Cape Breton 2 at Charlottetown 4
Charlottetown 1 at Cape Breton 3
Cape Breton 2 at Charlottetown 3 OT
Cape Breton 1 at Charlottetown 3
Charlottetown 2 at Cape Breton 6
Cape Breton 4 at Charlottetown 3 SO
Cape Breton 4 at Charlottetown 3
Charlottetown 5 at Cape Breton 4 SO
Charlottetown 3 at Cape Breton 1
GP G A Pts.
Daniel Hardie 68 34 44 78
Nikita Alexandrov 64 27 34 61
Hunter Drew 61 16 34 50
Jordan Maher 68 15 32 47
Kevin Gursoy 62 16 24 40
Mitchell Balmas 64 43 39 82
Mathias Laferriere 68 28 46 74
Egor Sokolov 68 30 27 57
Leon Gawanke 62 17 40 57
Derek Gentile 63 15 40 55
W L GAA SAV%
Matthew Welsh 32 24 2.90 .902
Kevin Mandolese 29 17 2.87 .895