From beginning to end: An emotional ride
From the naming of an honorary captain on opening night to the hanging of Dillon Boucher’s jersey behind the bench for the final game of the season, it has been a season full of emotional moments.
September 23, 2016 to April 29, 2017.
It was a long season. One where things can be forgotten, but many moments will be remembered forever.
Like Callum Thomson.
He was a 9-year-old leukemia survivor who the Islanders team met the season before in Halifax as he was undergoing treatments. Meeting Callum put things in perspective for the team, said Islanders head coach and general manager Jim Hulton.
“That initial meeting was very emotional for us as we were all in awe of Callum’s strength and resilience in the face of such adversity. He has served as an inspiration for our team dating back to that first meeting with this courageous young man and his family,” said Hulton before the start of this season.
On September 9, 2016, a bone marrow biopsy showed no sign of leukemia. Hulton and the entire Islanders organization thought adding such an inspirational young man to the lineup for the opening game of the season was in order.
Callum hit the ice as an Islander that night to great applause from the Eastlink Centre crowd who were then brought to tears with the playing of this video.
The Islanders defeated the Saint John Sea Dogs 6-2 that night, and dedicated the win to Callum.
Fast forward to October 15, when the Islanders held their annual Pink the Rink night vs the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. The game-worn pink jerseys were raffled off with all the profits going to the Canadian Cancer Society.
Pink the Rink nights are always emotional, but with family members of a few Islanders players battling the illness, it was especially important to the team, who beat the Screaming Eagles 4-2.
Fast forward to November 9, when the Islanders recognized the 1,000th game for the Islanders athletic therapist Kevin Elliot.
Elliot has worked with the organization on two separate occasions from 2003 to 2007, and after spending time with the Florida Panthers, he returned in 2009. He has been here ever since, and plays an integral part with the team.
The night consisted of a video featuring former players speaking on what Elliot had done for them before a ceremonial puck drop.
On November 24, the Eastlink Centre witnessed an emotional battle against the team that eliminated them the season before, the Shawinigan Cataractes. The Islanders won that spirited game in overtime when Kameron Kielly blew the roof off the Eastlink Centre with a top corner goal.
The next night, Jake Coughler scored in overtime against the Quebec Remparts in another spirited affair.
On December 2, the Islanders continued to roll at home when they beat the defending champions in a shootout. Isles fans were being treated to some great hockey and their team was leaving it all on the ice.
Though there were many highs in the first half, it ended on a low note after an 8-2 loss to the Saint John Sea Dogs.
The next few weeks also contained a series of ups and downs as the trade period opened and closed.
The Islanders saw the return of Daniel Sprong and the arrival of players like Nicolas Meloche, Mark Grametbauer, Francois Beauchemin and Carl Neill, plus many more.
But it also meant the departure of character players like Will Thompson, Jake Coughler and Mitchell Balmas.
For Hulton, in an interview with The Guardian’s Jason Malloy, the phone calls to those players leaving Charlottetown were some of the hardest moments of the season.
“It’s the horrible part of our business,” he said.
The Islanders lost their first three games featuring the new look Islanders and fans began to wonder if all the changes were warranted. Patience was all that was needed as the team went 22-4-2-0 in its final 28 games of the regular season.
Those 28 games included a 6-game win streak, a 9-game win streak, a sell out against the rival Sea Dogs and a 13-2 win at home. It was a tremendous run to end the regular season.
On March 4 at home, the Islanders broke the franchise record for most wins in a regular season.
What a regular season.
The playoffs were intense. The Islanders swept the first round, swept the second round and split games one and two at home against the Armada.
When the series returned to Charlottetown for game five, it was an emotional Islanders team that hit the ice.
For one, they were down in the series 3-1 and facing elimination.
Pascal Aquin was returning from a three-game suspension while Daniel Sprong would be absent as he served a one-game suspension.
All that seemed to light a fire, while something else had the players rallying for a teammate.
The night before the game, Dillon Boucher’s father lost his battle with cancer. Dillon would travel back home to be his family, but he would be with the Islanders in what turned out to be their final game.
The team had asked to hang his jersey behind the bench for the entire game, which was done by Islanders equipment manager ‘Spider’ MacNeill, who also put stickers on every helmet with Dillon’s father’s initials.
A moment of silence before the game put the Boucher family in the prayers of all the fans in attendance before puck drop.
Sixty minutes later, the Islanders season was over.
We’ve all seen hockey seasons come to an end before, but never have we saw one end with such emotion shown from the players.
Tears flowed, hugs were given and salutes were made. It was the final goodbye to many players as they move on in their careers. A journey we all were sad to see end, but were happy to be a part of.
From start to finish. Game 1 to 81, it was a season to remember. With some downs but a ton of ups.
A season to remember.