When talking about the history of Charlottetown Islanders, it would be a daunting task to mention anything without mentioning Pierre-Olivier Joseph.
The tall, slender defenseman’s infectious attitude and trademark smile, combined with his smart and skilled play on the ice, made him an instant favorite with fans, pleasing the masses every time he stepped on the ice. . Joseph also made Islanders history when he was drafted by the Arizona Coyotes 23rd overall in the 2017 NHL Draft, making him the tallest Islander selected in the draft; a record that still stands today.
Growing up, however, making the NHL wasn’t an aspiration. He chose to just look one step ahead.
“My brother (Tampa Bay Lightning forward Mathieu Joseph) and I didn’t look too far ahead; we were living in the present,” Joseph explained. “In bantam, my dream was to play Midget AAA without really knowing that there was even a QMJHL.
It didn’t take long for the dream to change when Joseph turned heads in Midget. The Islanders drafted the defender in the fifth round, 78and in total in the 2015 QMJHL Draft. Returning first to Saint-Hyacinthe to complete his game, it didn’t take him long to find his way back to Charlottetown, called up for Christmas that season and staying there for good.
“Honestly, if you asked me at the start of my draft year if I knew who the Charlottetown Islanders were, I wouldn’t be able to answer you,” Joseph said with a laugh. “I was really excited to be drafted into the QMJHL, to start a new chapter and to love playing hockey. I didn’t mind being so far from home, and more than anything, I was excited to start learning English.
A natural leader, at one point serving as an assistant captain at just 17, Joseph learned from excellent Islanders leaders as soon as he arrived in Charlottetown.
“The first year, the older guys were so great,” Joseph explained. “No one really cared how old you were, they were so open to you. Oliver Cooper was big on me; he was the one who started helping me with English because he was bilingual, and he also helped my brother in Saint John. When you meet people like him, you just want to stay with them and learn as much as you can. It was the same with my partner D, Dexter Weber. I was still learning when I was 19 in Charlottetown both older guys and younger guys.
As Joseph’s major junior career came to an end and he made the transition to professional play with the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, he found himself able to influence a future generation of hockey players. Joseph soon began working with the Pens Foundation to give young athletes of color the opportunity to learn the game of hockey.
“So many people growing up made me feel good about playing hockey and welcomed me to their team; they didn’t care about my skin color. These days, seeing kids being a bit scared, I struggle with that,” Joseph said. “I think it’s so sad that we even have to talk about things like this. It should just be human beings playing hockey and sharing the same passion for competing, getting out and playing and having fun. Every time they ask me if I can go to Pittsburgh, it’s never even a question for me. I was probably happier than the kids on the ice. I just want to show them that no matter what color they can do anything in life.
Joseph says he was able to use his experience as a black athlete in a predominantly white sport to help welcome young athletes into the sport. He added that he was blessed with a strong support system growing up.
“I don’t remember playing with many other black players growing up, especially since my group all played hockey together.” He said. “It was fun growing up with the same group of players. The people I met at Atom, through Peewee, Bantam and Midget helped mold me into the world of hockey; I’m still friends with a lot of them today.
This support system was important in Joseph’s development in the game. He said that although he did not grow up with many other black hockey players, he never felt judged at first sight by his teammates. Things haven’t always been perfect on the ice, but he’s always had great teammates behind him.
“Even though I was in a sports school where there were other black athletes, I encountered racism, but growing up with the same group of guys in hockey, they always supported me and did very well. reacted to these situations. I was very lucky to be surrounded by good people and to see myself as a PO rather than a black person.
Pierre-Olivier Joseph is only 22 years old, but is already a beacon in the world of hockey. His passion for helping his community stems from his love for the game of hockey. He wants to share that love with those who might not otherwise have the opportunity.
“Hockey has been so important in my life; if I can get a person in hockey on the right track, then I’ve done my job. If I keep doing it, then I can bring more and more people. That’s why I’m so passionate about helping the young community of Pittsburgh and making them feel as welcome in hockey as I do.
When asked to look to the future as a role model, her response was similar to her approach to minor hockey: one step at a time.
“I just want to stay true to myself and bring more diversity to the sport and make people feel at home in a hockey rink. That’s what I feel when I go to the rink, it’s like home; whatever happens off the ice, you don’t have to think about it. You want to compete, you want to have fun, you want to hopefully win a championship. I just want to continue to work with the Pens Foundation as much as possible and get more people into the sport and make them feel like they have a choice to play hockey and no one can take that away from them.