It was Matthew Welsh’s night and he delivered.
And so did his Charlottetown Islanders' teammates in a 6-2 victory over the Cape Breton Eagles as Welsh became the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s all-time leader in minutes played by a goalie.
“I am so grateful for everyone who has helped me get to this point,” Welsh told the crowd from centre ice during a post-game ceremony where the organization presented him with a framed Islanders’ jersey. “I’m so proud to be a Charlottetown Islander and play in front you fans every night – the best fans in the CHL.”
The Islanders, who have struggled in the second half this season, looked dialed in from puck dropped.
Forward Thomas Casey said they knew what was at stake.
“That celebration wouldn't have been as fun if we didn't win, so we knew in the back of our heads we got to get this for Welshy,” he said.
He marvels at the record (12,944:29), particularly when considering goalies normally face 20-50 shots a night.
“It’s taxing on your body and it really just shows the professional Matt is. He’s an example for all of us,” Casey said, noting he’s a role model on and off the ice. “It’s awesome seeing how good of a hockey player he is, but that kind of gets lost in how good of a person he is.”
And that’s why much of the 3,346 people who attended Friday’s game at the Eastlink Centre didn’t pull out with two minutes to go in order to beat the traffic. They stayed and honoured the young Haligonian who has given so much to his adopted home.
“It was wonderful to be able to do it in such a convincing win in front of a faithful crowd,” head coach Jim Hulton said. “It’s a love affair both ways. Both with the crowd with Matt (and) Matt with this community. He’s done so much on and off the ice … it was a terrific celebration.”
And while all his teammates were in the dressing room after the game, Welsh was near the ice signing autographs and taking photos with the fans, being as accommodating as always.
On his night, he made sure to share it with others.
“He understands that this is more than just about hockey. It’s about little kids living their dreams through him and looking up to him,” Hulton said. “He remembers what it was like to be that little kid.”
And it’s not forced or fake.
“He genuinely loves giving back to this community and that's why he has been so wonderfully embraced by Charlottetown and Prince Edward Island,” the head coach said.
The game was tied 1-1 after the first period and 2-2 heading to the third.
Brett Budgell scored the winner cutting across the front of the net 2:52 into the final frame and before Welsh surpassed former P.E.I. Rocket Ryan Mior and into the record books midway through the period, the home side led 5-2.
Ethan Crossman had a goal and four assists in the win while Nikita Alexandrov had a goal and three assists. Casey scored twice and Liam Peyton rounded out the scoring.
Captain Brendon Clavelle and Gaetan Jobin each had an assist.
Cape Breton captain Derek Gentile, a former Islander, and Nathan Larose scored for Cape Breton. Tyler Hinam, Egor Sokolov and Mathias Laferriere each had an assist.
Welsh made 21 saves for the victory while William Grimard was peppered with 50 shots in the Eagles' crease.
Charlottetown was 1-for-5 on the power play while Cape Breton was 1-for-3.
The Islanders improved to 30-25-5-0, 12 points back of Cape Breton (37-18-2-1) in the Eastern Conference. If the playoffs started today, they would meet each other in the first round.
The Islanders play the Sea Dogs Sunday in Saint John, N.B.