The head coach of the Charlottetown Islanders says he's proud of what his team accomplished this year despite a bittersweet ending to a "historic season."
The Islanders made it to the QMJHL final for the first time in their 19-year history following a season that saw them win a 48 regular-season games, a team record.
After dropping the first three games of the championship series against the Shawinigan Cataractes, the Islanders escaped elimination by routing their opponents 7-0 in Game 4.
It was looking good for the Islanders for most of Game 5 on Saturday. They led by two goals in the second period.
But the Cataractes came roaring back, tying the game 3-3 in the third and forcing overtime. Shawinigan scored 40 seconds into overtime, ending Charlottetown's season.
"The sting of the defeat is obviously still fresh," said coach Jim Hulton. "The closer you get to the championship, the harder it is to accept when you don't achieve your goal.
"Losing is very hard. And so as a group, we were devastated last night. We thought we had a team that was capable of winning a championship. And, unfortunately, … we ran into a team that capitalized on a number of chances."
The team has made deep playoff runs before, with three semifinal appearances. But Hulton, who has been coaching the team for the last seven years, said getting even a step further is a significant achievement.
"The message to our kids is to hold their heads up high and be proud of their accomplishments," he said. "I think in time we'll understand the magnitude of our season, but right now we're still focusing on the fact we didn't win a championship."
Hulton said the team now enters a rebuilding phase as a number of players graduate from the league.
"We'll be starting with what will be a young team next year," he said. "It will be a lot more of a teaching and development environment. That's the nature of junior hockey. It works in a cyclical pattern."
But, for now, Hulton thanked the fans.
"To see a sold-out Eastlink Centre for three games is gratifying," he said. "It's been a long time since the building's been packed, especially in light of the COVID situation the last couple of seasons. So all in all, just a huge thank you for all the support locally."