When the Charlottetown Islanders made history by reaching the final of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for the first time in the franchise’s 23-year history, one of the first things the players did was grab their longtime equipment manager and hoist him in the air.
Andrew “Spider” MacNeil has been with the team since the very beginning, and when the Islanders defeated the Sherbrooke Phoenix in their best-of-five-semifinal series Monday night, the players made sure he was part of the celebration.
“It was a lot of euphoria,” Islanders coach and general manager Jim Hulton said in an interview with Main Street PEI host Matt Rainnie.
“There was a little bit of crowd surfing. They grabbed Spider, threw him up in the air and danced around. But you know what? That’s the beauty of it. That’s why I love coaching junior hockey, just to see the happiness and joy in those kids’ faces.”
The Islanders will play the winner of Wednesday’s night’s game between Shawinigan and Quebec in the best-of-seven President’s Cup final beginning Saturday. If Shawinigan wins, the Islanders would host Game 1. If Quebec wins, they would start on the road.
‘longest 13 minutes’
Hulton said a few days off will do the team good after Monday’s emotional game in Sherbrooke, Que. The Islanders seemed to be in command but lost momentum when the Phoenix scored two goals early in the third period to cut the lead to 4-3.
“We joked last night after the game, it was the longest 13 minutes in the history of hockey for those of us that were hanging on,” Hulton said.
“It felt like the ice was tilted in their favor for most of the third. But our goaltender was sensational and we’re going to go on a long run. You have to have moments like that. You have to have some good fortune. “
The Islanders have had more than just good fortune this year. They are full of what Hulton calls character players, guys that lift up their equipment manager after a victory, led by captain and the QMJHL humanitarian player of the year Brett Budgell.
They have skilled players such as Lukas Cormier, widely regarded as the best defenseman in the league; Patrick Guay, whose 55 goals set a franchise record; Jakub Brabenec of Czechia, the winner of the Michel-Bergeron Trophy as the League’s top offensive rookie; and goalie Franceso Lapenna, who has a 1.79 goal-against average in 10 playoff games this year.
Of course, they also have Hulton, who was named the league’s coach of the year for the second year in a row.
But Hulton said the players deserve the credit. He said they’ve been “on a mission” since losing in the league semifinal last year.
“These kids have maintained their focus through a lot of stuff,” he said. “These kids lived through COVID. They lived through various different shutdowns and through it all, they’ve maintained their love of the game, they’ve maintained their focus and they’re excited to keep playing because they like each other. They have a lot of fun together and they want this ride to keep going.”