Inside the hours that transformed the Islanders: By Darcy Cudmore
January 4, 2017
I woke up to the wind blowing furiously outside while freezing rain fell from the sky. A certain sign that a storm was on the way, if it hadn’t arrived already.
A storm of its own was heading for the Charlottetown Islanders of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. But this storm would be one welcomed by the residents of P.E.I.
I braved the cold and wet into the back entrance of the Eastlink Centre about an hour later. As I made my way up to the Islanders main office on the second floor I noticed Head Coach and General Manager Jim Hulton in his office at the end of the hall. The glass doors and walls made everything in the room visible to those passing by.
Associate Coach and Assistant GM Guy Girouard was in with him.
In the Islanders main office, nothing was out of the ordinary yet. When I left about an hour later to take in some of the team’s practice starting on the ice, both Hulton and Girouard were still in the office. Assistant Coach Brad Mackenzie would be running the practice.
Something was definitely up.
The QMJHL’s trading period had opened on Dec. 18 and was due to close on the approaching Friday, January 6.
The Islanders had already made a few deals and had acquired some big pieces like Nicolas Meloche, Mark Grametbauer, Will Bower, Dillon Boucher and a few more. But Hulton and crew were not done yet.
When I passed by the office shortly after, the Director of Player Personnel and Maritime Head Scout Trevor Birt had joined Hulton and Girouard.
Several times through the day I saw Hulton on the phone. At one point, Birt returned with coffee.
I had been home for a short while when I received a text at 4:30pm from the team’s President that a deal had been made.
Looks like my work day was not over.
The Islanders acquired forwards Francois Beauchemin (20) and Adam Marsh (19) from the Val-d’Or Foreurs. Charlottetown sent defenceman Cody Donaghey (20) as well as a 2017 1st round pick (originally owned by Val-d’Or) and a 5th round pick in 2018.
Francois Beauchemin, a 6 foot 1, 190 lb winger from Rimouski, was sitting 3rd in QMJHL points with 55, 2nd in goals with 27 and T-12th in assists with 28 at the time of the trade. All that in 39 games with Val-d’Or.
Adam Marsh was a Detroit Red Wings draft pick from 2015.
An hour later, the Islanders made a deal with the Gatineau Olympiques. This would be the second deal that Charlottetown made with Gatineau since the trade period had opened.
Today, the Islanders had acquired Alex Dostie (19) from the Olympiques.
Dostie, a Drummondville native who was drafted in the 4th round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft by the Anaheim Ducks, had been with Gatineau since the 2013/14 season and had 73 points in 54 regular season games in 2015/16. So far in 2016/17, he had 36 points (15 goals, 21 assists) in 32 games.
To acquire Dostie, the Islanders sent Mitchell Balmas (18), Jake Barter (19), a 1st round pick in 2019 and a 3rd round pick in 2018.
At 6:30 that evening, news broke that the Islanders had also acquired Carl Neill (20) from the Sherbrooke Phoenix.
Neill had been with the Phoenix since the 2012/13 season and had played over 60 games in every one of the last 4 seasons. So far in 2016/17, Neill had played 36 games and had 10 goals and 36 assists.
To acquire Neill, the Islanders sent four draft picks to the Phoenix.
As I punched out on my virtual time clock around midnight, all social media platforms were buzzing. It had been a day that Islanders fans had wanted for many years. A complete all-in attitude with deals being made to help them compete and contend with the league’s best. These deals made sure of that and offered much excitement across Canada’s smallest province.
Thanks to the moves Hulton had made, the Islanders had made national news on the junior hockey level. The Charlottetown Islanders were going for it.
To go along with the big deals, more great news came from the Islanders staff on that Wednesday in January. Daniel Sprong had been officially cleared for action and would be returning to the lineup that weekend at the Eastlink Centre.
In the following days, the Islanders lineup was solidified for the second half (there was 20-year-old situation that needed to be addressed).
On Friday, the new lineup was iced and, even though they lost the first two games as a unit, the remainder of the season was outstanding.
They went 22-7-2-0 in the 31 regular season games they played as a team. They finished 2nd overall of the 18 teams in wins and points. They scored the most goals of any team in the league.
In the playoffs, the won the first eight games to catapult them to the third round.
The Islanders staff built quite a team for fans to watch this season and the second half of the season was quite a time to be a hockey fan on P.E.I.
And it all started on that stormy morning on January 4, 2017.