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Matthew Welsh starts final season seeking to bring championship to Charlottetown


He’s been to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s final four, attended pro and Hockey Canada camps and cleaned up at Charlottetown Islanders banquets, but there’s no hesitation in Matthew Welsh’s voice when asked what’s missing from his junior career.

“There’s just the one thing that everyone dreams of achieving and that’s a championship,” he said Wednesday at the Eastlink Centre. “There’s the President Cup that we’re playing for every year. I haven’t had my opportunity to put my hands on it yet. I think everyone in our dressing room is striving towards that one goal.”

The journey to achieving that goal started Friday night as the puck dropped for the first of 68 regular season games of the major junior season. Results from Charlottetown’s game with the Moncton Wildcats were unavailable at press time. Welsh started and is expected to be back in the crease tonight as the Isles host the Halifax Mooseheads at 7 p.m. at the Eastlink Centre.

Welsh is on track to become the first member of the franchise since Ben Duffy to play all five of their junior seasons in Charlottetown. Duffy ended his career in the final season of the P.E.I. Rocket while Welsh joined the Islanders for Year 2 of the rebranded franchise. That same season Jim Hulton joined the club as the bench boss. He’s since taken on the role of general manager, and while all GMs leave the door open slightly to anyone being traded, it’s about as remote as it gets with Matthew Welsh.

“I would be shocked if we ever moved Matt,” he said. “He’s a fifth-year guy that you run out of superlatives to describe what he has done for this franchise, but there’s another chapter left to be written. . .

“We’d like to go a step further We’d like to get this kid a championship because it’s going to be a long time before you see a guy like Matt in our organization.”

Welsh is the elder statesman of the franchise, both in terms of age and years of service.

He’s been the backbone of the squad as it made back-to-back semifinal appearances. When the team made the difficult decision to part with key veterans at Christmastime, they called it a retool and wanted to contend this season as opposed to a complete rebuild.

“Matt is going to be very, very key, especially in the first half of the season until we get a little bit of experience,” Hulton said. “We’re a blend of young and old, but we’re still a pretty young hockey team when you look at it. We’re going to have some nights where our goalie has to be the backbone of the team, and it’s certainly reassuring to know Matt is the guy back there.”

Welsh’s junior career began in Sherbrooke, Que., when the Isles made a pair of moves early in the draft and came away with Shawn Boudrias in the first round and Welsh with the last pick of the second round. He was the sixth goalie selected.

He was five-foot-11, 176 pounds and size has always been a question Welsh has had to answer. He doesn’t shy away from it and doesn’t think it hinders his play either.

“There was a lot of Q teams that didn't want me because of my size. They would go for a taller goalie because they would think they’d pan out better than I would,” he said. “I’ve always had the same mindset of proving people wrong. I am very confident in my ability on the ice and I don't think my size holds me back when it comes to stopping pucks.”

The transition from being a strong minor hockey player to a starter in major junior wasn’t direct. Nothing was easy and nothing was handed to him.

He bided his time as a rookie while backing up Mason McDonald. He split time with Blade Mann-Dixon and Mark Grametbauer in Year 2.

What Welsh didn’t do was just expect he would get his shot to be the No. 1.

“I spent a lot of hours with (goalie coach) Paul Drew on the ice, putting in extra work and coming in early to work out,” Welsh recalled. “It took me a lot of work to build up to be a starter in this league.”

Welsh laid claim to the starter’s role in 2017-18 and hasn’t looked back.

He played a league-high 3,330 minutes last season while recording 32 of the Islanders 40 victories. He understands playing so much is taxing on his body but is ready for the workload.

“I love to play as much as I can. I want to be in the net. Sitting on the bench isn’t fun,” he said.

Welsh has been healthy through four seasons. He’s had a few games off here and there, but if it was a must-win, Welsh would have been in the blue paint.

“That’s why I train so hard over the summer, just to build my stamina up.”

While they may not coin it load management, the Islanders know the importance of keeping Welsh fresh. It’s tough when the veteran wants to help his team win every night.

“He’s the racehorse that’s at that gate every day,” Hulton said.

But the Islanders drafted Jacob Goobie in the second round of June’s draft as the heir apparent and are confident in his abilities. They will break him slowly, as they do with all 16-year-old players. Goobie, who backstopped Halifax to the Atlantic major midget title in the spring, is expected to give Welsh a break during the season to keep him to be at his best for what the team hopes is another long post-season.

“I believe in this team and I think the main thing is creating that belief around the room,” Welsh said. “If we all believe, then I think this team can do limitless things.”

Related links:

    • Matthew Welsh is complete package for Charlottetown Islanders

    • Matthew Welsh provides Islanders with confidence in the crease

    • Matthew Welsh is a playoff-proven winner

    • Looking back at how Matthew Welsh became an Islander

Need to know

Matthew Welsh

Who – A fifth-year member of the Charlottetown Islanders of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Size, position – Five-foot-11, 177-pound goaltender.

Age, Hometown – A 20-year-old Halifax native.

First game – Welsh recorded a 20-save shutout on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, against the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in his first game in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). “It was a special night,” he said, noting his family, including his grandparents, were there to watch the milestone. “That’s one I’ll never forget.”

Family connection – Welsh’s older brother, Nicholas, played in the QMJHL with the Shawinigan Cataractes and Moncton Wildcats. The defenceman starred with the Saint Mary’s Huskies in his first season in the Atlantic University Sport and attended camp with the Ottawa Senators earlier this year. His younger brother, Zach, also a blue-liner, was drafted in the second round by Cape Breton in June after helping Halifax win the Atlantic major midget championship at UPEI. Zach, an affiliate with Cape Breton this season, is playing junior A with the Truro Bearcats. He is expected to get into some major junior games this season with one likely to come against his older brother. “It would be pretty cool to play against him,” Matthew said.

Billets – Welsh’s time in Charlottetown has been with one billet family, Adam and Stefanie Clark and their children Ethan and Emmy. It means Welsh has spent a quarter of his life with them and the connection is strong. “They’re like a second family to me,” Welsh said. “It’s been a great relationship. I’m really lucky to have billets that have treated me so well for so long. I couldn't imagine living with any other billets.”

Rising to the occasion – The Islanders haven’t had a high-octane offence the past two seasons, relying on winning low-scoring, tight-checking games. In requires a strong goalie and a commitment to team defence. Charlottetown was a league-best 8-3 in shootouts a year ago, which helped vault them into 40 wins and home ice for the first round of the playoffs.

Head coach Jim Hulton said: “He always gives you the belief that fatal goal is not going in.”

Career statistics

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

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1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

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