When Pierre-Olivier (P.O.) Joseph makes his NHL debut, he will be honouring his former Charlottetown Islanders’ teammate.
Joseph was asked what jersey number he wanted when he joined the Pittsburgh Penguins’ organization following a trade with the Arizona Coyotes.
He wore 15 during his 3 ½ season with the Islanders, but it was one of the few times he hadn’t had a seven on his hockey, soccer or baseball jersey.
“The lucky seven was always part of our family,” Joseph said.
He wore 17 with the Drummondville Voltigeurs, 37 with the Coyotes’ organization and 57 last season, when he made his pro debut with the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
He looked at the possible options with Pittsburgh and saw some of the numbers ending in seven were already taken, including the 87 worn by captain Sidney Crosby.
“One of the numbers that was available was a 73,” said Joseph, a 21-year-old Chambly, Que., native. “It’s a new start, just switch the number from Arizona and at the same time it’s a little thing for my good friend Welshy from Charlottetown. … It’s just a reminder of all the years we spent together.”
Goalie Matthew Welsh and Joseph, a defenceman, were drafted into the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League on the same day and were key parts of the franchise during their junior careers.
The friendship remains strong between the former teammates.
“He is someone I am going to remember for the rest of my life,” Joseph said. “We were really tight from the start. When we were 16 years old at camp, we clicked right away. We knew we were going to be together there for a while.”
They may not wear the same jersey anymore but they will be brothers for life. pic.twitter.com/phEVKj54kJ— Charlottetown Islanders (@IslandersHKY) February 9, 2019
Welsh was pleased his buddy thought of him when selecting his jersey.
“We had a special bond; we were really close. We always kind of had each other’s backs,” the 21-year-old Halifax native said. “To see him wear 73 is definitely cool. I would love to see him get a shot to play with the Penguins sooner than later, and it would be an honour to see him wear the 73 on the ice.”
History of No. 73
With so many famous numbers in hockey, how did Matthew Welsh end up with No. 73?
After being drafted by the Charlottetown Islanders in June 2015 in Sherbrooke, Que., Welsh went with equipment manager Andrew (Spider) MacNeill to pick out gear. MacNeill asked what number the youngster wanted.
“I remember when I first said 73, he looked at me funny and he was like, ‘Are you sure’?” Welsh recalled. “I didn't want to wear something that was generic or that was a common number. I kind of wanted to have a number that I could make original to myself and I picked 73.”
He is still wearing the number today with the Saint Mary’s Huskies in his first season of university hockey.
The gesture speaks volumes about the two men involved, said Isles’ head coach Jim Hulton.
“It speaks to the indelible imprint that they left on the organization and on each other,” he said. “That’s one of the things I love about being involved at this level is those bonds last a lifetime.”
Joseph wore 73 at training camp last season, and the number showed up earlier this month with the release of Upper Deck’s 2020-21 Series 1 hockey cards. Joseph is sporting 73 in his first hockey card.
“Growing up, you always pick up the cards, trade the cards and now you’re on it, it’s special,” he said.
The night the product was released, the Islanders played the Halifax Mooseheads at the Eastlink Centre. Gary Bowness gave Nancy Fong, the team’s nutritionist and Joseph’s billet during his tenure in Charlottetown, one of the cards. They Facetimed with Joseph, who is in Tampa, Fla., training with his older brother, Mathieu, who wears jersey No. 7 for the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lighting.
Joseph is awaiting word on when he has to report to Pittsburgh for camp. When he does, he won’t be the only member who played junior hockey in Charlottetown. P.E.I. Rocket goalie Maxime Lagacé and forward Josh Currie, who served as the last captain before the name change, signed with the Penguins during the off-season.
“I am looking forward to meeting these guys that went through the process of playing in Charlottetown,” Joseph said.
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