It was somewhat of a topsy-turvy season for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s (QMJHL) Moncton Wildcats and its three players from Antigonish; second-year forward Jacob Hudson and first-year players Jacob Stewart, also a forward, and defenceman Sean Stewart.
The team started out on fire, sizzled, flamed out, replaced its coach early in the New Year, picked up their play in the closing months of the season, won a dramatic, hard-fought, seven game battle against the Baie-Comeau Drakkar to start the QMJHL finals, and then were swept by league finalists and Memorial Cup hosts the Halifax Mooseheads in round two.
That seems more like a couple of seasons’ worth of ups and downs.
Hudson, who captained the Cape Breton West Islanders when they won the Telus Cup title in the 2016-17 season, talked about his personal season somewhat reflecting the team’s 2018-19 campaign.
“A little bit … once the team started to go, it brought me down a little bit, I guess,” he said, talking to the Casket May 15.
“I got back on track going into the playoffs, at the end of the regular season and, I think, overall it was a really good year … for all of us as a team.”
Hudson finished with 12 goals and 23 assists in 59 regular season games, and added a goal and three assists in 10 playoff games.
“We were expected this year to make a really good push for getting into the Memorial Cup tournament, but we kind of stepped back after the slump and everything that went on,” he said, looking back once more before looking forward.
“For the next year, I think we’re going to start off right in the middle; we’re going to have a solid team to start with. And, as the year goes on, we’ll progress and going into the playoffs, we’ll be amongst the top teams in the league. That is what I think; I’m not really sure what their [management] plan is, but I think we’ll start in the middle and rise as the season goes on.”
Both Jacob and Sean were members of that title winning Islanders team as well. Last year, Jacob spent most of his season with the Pictou County Jr. ‘A’ Crushers while also seeing duty with the Wildcats as a frequent call-up. Sean played another full season with the major midget team based in Port Hood, while suiting up for a few games with the Crushers and a couple with the Wildcats.
“Personally, I thought I got better as the year went on,” Jacob said in assessing his first full QMJHL season.
“A little slow at the start, slower than I would have wanted, but I thought I improved a lot, which is what really matters, and helps build confidence for next year.”
He talked about making the decision to spend last season with the Crushers, as opposed to playing another season with the Islanders.
“I thought it helped a lot,” he said.
“I was never really a big skills guy so, for me, getting prepared to play in the ‘Q’ wasn’t so much me becoming a more offensive player; it was playing against bigger guys, older guys. I thought the transition to junior ‘A,’ at a young age, was good for me. Getting used to big guys; guys coming from the ‘Q’ who would get sent down to junior ‘A’ in their 20-year-old season; I gained a lot of experience against those types of players, so it was good for me.”
Jacob potted six goals and three assists in 57 regular season games for the Wildcats this season, and added a goal and an assist in 11 playoff contests.
Sean also noted feeling more confident and comfortable as the season progressed.
“It’s kind of a feeling it out [process] in your first year but, I think, as the year went on, I became more comfortable and started playing more minutes,” he said, noting the big challenge coming from major midget is having less time to make decisions with and without the puck.
“Everything is more sped up and everyone is bigger and faster,” Sean said, before moving on to goals for next season, which include being more a regular in the defence rotation.
“Be in the line-up the whole year; improve my skating, my shot, work on both ends of the game – offensively and defensively – and be a guy they can rely on,” he said. “I definitely have goals in my head going into each season.”
Sean finished with a goal and three assists in 49 games, while suiting up for seven of the team’s 11 playoff contests.
Jacob said, while it may be a “cliché,” his goal is to keep “getting better.”
“Improve on everything, move up in the line-up, play in the top nine, and put up better numbers,” he said. “Just get better and help the team as much as I can.”
While Hudson also noted continued overall improvement as a goal, he said being more of a leader is on his 2019-20 to-do list.
“It’s going to be my third year in the league so I’m going to be one of the older guys on the team,” he said. “So take the things I’ve learned from the past couple of years and help out the younger players, in whatever way I can; put up some numbers, make a name for myself and help myself, and the team, as much as I can.”
The Stewarts talked about having a familiar face in Hudson already on the team when they arrived in Moncton, and getting to continue playing hockey together.
“It was awesome,” Jacob said. “I grew up playing with [Hudson] so when I was drafted to Moncton, I knew that was going to make it an easier transition if I was to ever play on the team. And when Sean was drafted with me; we grew up together, so we were all pretty tight. We were pretty fortunate for that; a lot of guys go away to those Quebec teams, and they don’t have a lot of people around they can talk to or who they really know.
“And being in Moncton, it’s a great city. We’re not too far away from Antigonish so our family was always around. In the big picture, it really wasn’t that much of a transition.”
The trio said they’ll be following the Memorial Cup with great interest this year to not only see how their QMJHL opponents – from Halifax and Rouyn-Noranda – fare, but because former Islander teammate Ryan MacLellan, from Beaver Meadow, Antigonish County and a cousin of Hudson’s, is a member of the ‘Q’ champion Huskies.
“I wish him the best of luck, I’ll be rooting for him,” Hudson said. “I also have a couple of friends on Halifax, who I know quite well playing against them and skating with them a couple of times in the summer. Obviously I want my cousin to win, but I’ll be rooting for all my friends at the Memorial Cup.”