Matthew Welsh is on the verge of making Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) history.
The 20-year-old netminder, who has spent his entire career with the Charlottetown Islanders, could set a new league record for most minutes played in a QMJHL career in Friday’s contest with the Cape Breton Eagles. Game time is 7:30 p.m. at the Eastlink Centre.
“This means a lot to me,” Welsh said of the upcoming record. “It’s something I’ve worked towards my whole junior career, and a lot of hard work has been put into it. It’s a huge honour to be in such elite company with some of the goalies that have played in this league.”
Welsh has played 12,884 minutes and 29 seconds during his five-year QMJHL career. He is about 49 minutes away from setting the record, set by former Prince Edward Island Rocket and Gatineau Olympiques goaltender Ryan Mior in 2008.
“When I was drafted by the Islanders I had high expectations for myself, and since then I’ve always held myself to the highest standard. That being said, I never could have imagined getting to where I am today,” Welsh said. “I’ve always set big dreams and goals for myself, and one of those was to be the best goalie in the league for years to come.”
Welsh was drafted by the Islanders in the second round, 37th overall, in the 2015 QMJHL draft. Welsh, who was five-foot-11 and 176 pounds heading into his draft, has had to answer the height question numerous times during his career.
“I asked the kid point blank, ‘Why should I draft you? You’re a small goaltender and everybody is drafting big goaltenders’,” said Grant Sonier, who was the Isles’ general manager at the time. “He had the ultimate answer. I will never forget it. … He looked at me and said, ‘Not once, when I’ve been scored upon, did I wish I was bigger’.”
Welsh was confident in his abilities but also a humble young man.
Sonier, who credited head scout Gilles Tremblay and his scouting staff for drafting Welsh, said every kid who plays major junior hockey can learn from the Halifax native.
“Matty is a great kid,” Sonier said.
Welsh made the Islanders roster as a 16-year-old rookie and saw action in 26 games.
“It doesn't matter if they’re drafted in the first round or in the 12th round, there’s a development process that has to take place,” Sonier said. “And Paul Drew deserves a lot of credit. Paul Drew basically lived the same life as this kid. (He) was an undersized goaltender, played major junior hockey and is an outstanding person. It was a great … fit.”
Jim Hulton’s first season as Islanders’ head coach was Welsh’s rookie season.
“In order to set a record for most minutes played, you have to be very durable and in top-notch condition,” he said.
He remembers Welsh coming back for his sophomore season in great shape after seeing first-hand how much hard work and dedication it would take to succeed in the league during his freshman campaign.
During his five-year career, Welsh has appeared in 220 games and amassed 122 wins.
“The City of Charlottetown and the Islanders organization have been so good to me over the past five years. Jim has given me every opportunity to play and succeed as a player in this organization. To have the chance to set this record in Charlottetown, in front of our fans, is huge for me,” Welsh said. “I feel so close to this team and to this fan (base). I’m really excited for it.”
Welsh’s name currently sits near the top of many of the league’s major goaltending records, including games played (fourth), wins (fifth) and shutouts (seventh).
Welsh has had many great moments during his five-year career, but the one that stands out to the bench boss occurred on April 3, 2018.
The Islanders were in Quebec City, Que., playing the Remparts in Game 7 of the first-round playoff series. The game was tied 2-2 late in the second period when former Isles forward Gregor MacLeod was sent in on a breakaway.
Welsh made the stop, the Isles got momentum and scored six times in the third for an 8-3 victory with Pascal Aquin having a four-goal night. The Islanders would go on to make the deepest playoff run in franchise history, losing in Game 7 of the semifinals to the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada.
“Without that save, we’re probably beat out in the first round and we don't go on that Cinderella run that everybody still talks about,” Hulton said.
The save showed Welsh’s ability to rise to the occasion.
“He’s a money guy. … He’s at his best when the game is on the line,” Hulton said.
“He’s done remarkable things for this franchise both on and off the ice and it’s nice to see him etch his name in the record book.”
Friday’s game is also players’ night where the Islanders will be wearing limited-edition jerseys, designed by the players, with their nicknames emblazoned across the back.
– Compiled by Aidan Northcott for the Charlottetown Islanders with files from Jason Malloy, The Guardian.
A look at goalies who have played the most minutes during their Quebec Major Junior Hockey League careers.
Player, teams Seasons Time
Ryan Mior, P.E.I. and Gatineau 2003-08 12,933:20
Matthew Welsh, Charlottetown 2015-present 12,884:29
Alex Dubeau, Shawinigan and Moncton 2010-2015 12,638:14
Jacques Cloutier, Trois-Rivieres 1976-80 12,633:36
Philippe Cadorette, Baie-Comeau and Shawinigan 2012-16 11,983:31
Zachary Fucale, Halifax and Quebec 2011-15 11,686:28
Samuel Harvey, Rouyn-Noranda 2014-19 11,271:43
Louis-Philip Guindon, Drummondville and Rimouski 2012-16 11,257:09
Robert Sauve, Verdun and Laval 1971-75 11,226:02
Sylvain Michaud, Drummondville, Rouyn-Noranda and Chicoutimi 2001-06 11,225:49
Did you know?
Matthew Welsh holds the league’s record for most overtime wins in a career with 21 and most shootout wins in one season with eight in 2018-19. He also holds 32 Charlottetown Islanders’ team records. He will become the first five-year member of the P.E.I. Rocket/Charlottetown Islanders franchise since Ben Duffy accomplished the feat in 2013.