A third round we have been waiting for
The P.E.I. Rocket burst onto the Island hockey scene in 2003 with a bang.
Cory Urquhart. Maxim Lapierre. Pierre-Andre Bureau. David Laliberte. Brent MacLellan. Marc-Andre Gragnani. Jimmy Boneau.
All that talent led by someone who had coached 200+ games in the NHL beforehand, and would go onto coach 800+ games in the NHL after (and counting) in Alain Vigneault.
The Rocket had 40 wins and finished fourth in that first season. They beat the Quebec Remparts in the first round, thumping them 7-1 in game five in front of their home fans at the Eastlink Centre. They won the series 4-1.
In the second round, after winning game one, the Moncton Wildcats won four of the next five and eliminated them. The Wildcats would lose in the finals.
The next season, the Rocket would miss the playoffs.
The season of 2005/06 was another losing season for the Rocket and, after making the playoffs, it was a first-round exit for the Yanick Jean coached P.E.I. club.
In 2006/07, the Rocket were stopped in the first round.
The same as 2007/08. And 2008/09. And 2009/10. And 2010/11.
The season of 2011/12 was the all-time low.
The team recorded just 19 wins and finished dead last. The average attendance through the 34 home games was 1,603.
That year, Gerard Gallant and the Saint John Sea Dogs won the league championship while P.E.I. fans looked on thinking “When is it our turn? Why not us?”
Things did get a little better.
There was the 2012/13 season where Ben Duffy and Josh Currie lit the lamp time and time again, eventually finishing first and third in the league in total points.
The Rocket finished 7th that season and had home ice in the first round of the playoffs, where they were upset by the 10th place Val-d’Or Foreurs in overtime of game six.
The next season, the Rocket changed to the Islanders and, while attendance went up, the wins went down.
They finished fourth last and, you guessed it, were eliminated in the first round.
Between the 2003/04 and 2013/14 season, the Halifax Mooseheads would go to the finals twice, winning the league championship once.
The Moncton Wildcats won the championship twice and lost in the finals once.
The Saint John Sea Dogs, who came into the league two seasons after the Rocket, had won the President’s Cup two times.
The P.E.I. team had advanced to the second round once. That was it.
But then, a glimmer of hope in the 2014/15 season.
It was the breakout season of Daniel Sprong, Alexandre Goulet and Filip Chlapik. There were the additions of Ross Johnston, Ryan MacKinnon and Kameron Kielly. Mason McDonald was in net.
It was a good team, and a team that Island fans enjoyed watching. It was a team that you could rally behind. They battled. They worked hard. And they won.
They finished the season 2nd in the Maritime division with a record of 35-28-1-4.
In the playoffs, the Islanders traded wins with their opponent, the Sherbrooke Phoenix. After five games, the Isles led 3-2 as the series switched back to Sherbrooke.
I can remember watching the overtime period of game six and listening to the words of George Matthews and Cory Arsenault as the Islanders had an opportunity to advance to the second round. It was unfamiliar territory made possible by a Spencer Cobbold goal at 13:34 of the extra frame.
What a feeling.
It was a short lived celebration as the Isles were steam rolled in the second round by the Memorial Cup host Quebec Remparts who were stacked with players like Anthony Duclair, Dmytro Timashov, Ryan Graves and Zach Fucale. But it was still exciting, and it was progress.
2015/16 looked promising, but Daniel Sprong making the Pittsburgh Penguins out of training camp as a rookie hurt the Islanders out of the gate, even if it was exciting for Daniel and his fans.
They would start the season 13-19-2-1 and sat 14th in the standings after the first half.
The return of Sprong, and the addition of Samuel Blais, Jake Coughler and Alexis Vanier sparked the team. They would go 22-7-3-1 in the second half and they finished 9th.
In the first round of the playoffs, they would eliminate the Rimouski Oceanic in six games. In the second round, the Islanders would fight hard against an extremely tough Shawinigan team, eventually falling in six games.
2015/16 was very positive.
This season has been a certain type of special.
From hosting the June entry draft in Charlottetown, and acquiring Guillaume Brisebois, it has been a monumental season.
The most wins, the most points, the most goals.
Daniel Sprong has broken records. Filip Chlapik, Kameron Kielly, and practically the entire team, have had career years. Pierre-Olivier Joseph is ranked 27th for the upcoming NHL Draft. Jim Hulton has made moves that Islanders fans have dreamt of for years.
8-0 in the playoffs in the first two rounds. Home ice to start both rounds, and maybe even to start the third round.
Adversity. Fight. Dominance. Character.
We’re living a dream we’ve had for over 10 years. This is what we’ve waited for.
And we’re right in the middle of it.
See you at the Eastlink Centre for round three.