CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – Jim Hulton loves junior hockey.
“It doesn’t feel like work,” the Charlottetown Islanders head coach and general manager said Tuesday.
He just finished his third regular season on the bench with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League club, and Tuesday the team rewarded him with a four-year contract extension that takes him through the 2021-22 season.
“It’s an exciting day for myself and my family,” Hulton said during a news conference after Thursday morning’s practice. “It’s been three fantastic seasons, probably beyond what we could have believed when we first stepped foot on the Island.”
Craig Foster, the team’s president of operations, said Hulton has transformed the team into a squad local fans and partners can be proud of. The decision to ink the extension was an easy one, he said, noting the deal was struck a couple of weeks ago.
“The proof is in the track record with what he’s done the last few years,” he said.
And none more so than this season’s success. The team finished ninth overall after external expectations were low entering the season for a club that had lost a lot of talented players after the franchise’s first semifinal visit in 2017.
There was internal belief in the club from the head coach on down.
“I'll be Goddamned, but there's going to be a competitive team on the ice this year,” Hulton calmly told The Guardian at the end of August.
It didn’t look good early.
The team stumbled out of the gate and was 1-6-1-0 in its first eight games.
His influence on the squad was “huge” at the time, goalie Matthew Welsh said Tuesday, by encouraging the team to stick to the script and the outcomes would change.
“When there were times of panic, he was always the guy that everyone looked to because he was always calm,” Welsh said.
Hulton is very professional, but approachable, the goalie shared.
“He has the respect of all the players,” Welsh said. “He’s strict in practice, he’s hard on us, he pushes us, but at the same time we have that relationship with Jim where we feel comfortable around him. . . We know he’s always there for us.”
Defenceman Hunter Drew knows he owes a lot to Hulton, who suggested he come to camp two seasons ago without any guarantees. He called it the biggest opportunity of his life.
“He just said work hard and see what happens, and that’s what I did and I guess it worked out,” the veteran blue-liner said. “It’s definitely nice to see him get rewarded like the rest of us.”
Hulton said he’s worked in a number of different business models in the hockey world. Some are very corporate.
“This one isn't. This one has a ‘we’re all in it together’ feel,” he said, while thanking all those who made Tuesday’s announcement possible.
Hulton said the news was great for his family. He is married to Kristina and they have two children, Jimmy, 13, and Lucas, 10.
“This will allow my oldest to graduate high school on the Island, which is very important for us,” he said. “We’ve met so many wonderful people here on the Island. It’s nice to be able to continue the relationships.”
He said it’s easy as a coach taking on a new job to pack up the van, arrive in a new city and get in “a bubble” and meet new people.
“The hard part is the family,” he said. “They have to end relationships and try to spark up new ones. It’s kind of the hidden part of the game and the underbelly that’s not always the prettiest part.”
Foster was part of a committee that included then general manager Grant Sonier and owners Geoff Boyle and Bobby MacMillan who hired Hulton in 2015 when 67 people applied for the position.
“Jim was the one that we thought could take us to the promised land, and we still have that same belief,” Foster said.
The terms of the deal, as per team policy, were not released.
Who – The Charlottetown Islanders head coach and general manager.
The news – The team announced on Tuesday it had signed Hulton to a four-year contract extension.
History – Hulton was head coach in 2015. He took over the GM responsibilities after his first season and signed a new two-year contract with a team option for 2018-19.
Did you know? He has drafted or acquired all the players on the current roster except Keith Getson, Matthew Welsh and captain Pierre-Olivier Joseph.
Previous stops – Before coming to Charlottetown, Hulton had been head coach in the OHL with Mississauga, Belleville and Kingson, the USHL’s Tri-City Storm and an assistant coach with the NHL’s Florida Panthers.
Islanders coaching statistics
Season W L Pts.
2015-16 35 33 77
2016-17 45 21 94
2017-18 37 30 81
Alone on top – Hulton set the franchise record for career wins in the regular season with 117 on Sunday, surpassing Gordie Dwyer’s mark set from 2011-12 to 2014-15. Hulton is the sixth head coach in franchise history since the team moved from Montreal to Prince Edward Island. The others were Alain Vigneault, Yanick Jean, Guy Chouinard and Eric Lavigne.