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A Matt Moulson Story



Matt Moulson has scored a couple times in the past two games for the Islanders on passes from John Tavares.  The following is a story about the week we both tried out for the Vernon Vipers in 2001.

I showed up for my 18-19 year old season and started sizing up the competition.  I was one of about four players already signed by the Vernon Vipers of the BCHL after my stellar year playing junior B in Osoyoos, BC.  Moulson was a lock for a spot on the team, but hadn’t been signed yet.

And fortunately for him, he happened to be a lot better at hockey than first impressions.

Moulson, all growed up.

Moulson, all growed up.

He showed up at the arena for tryouts with a glossy blue button-down shirt buttoned multiple buttons down with a gold chain and slicked back black hair.  He was… confident.

And he was good.  Very good.

Tryouts consisted of a few practices, then being separated into three or four teams, and playing a mini-tournament while the coaches watched.  Our coach was the notorious hard ass, Mike Vandekamp.

The more I think about Mike and my junior years, the more I think they were book worthy (I kept a thorough journal of the madness).  That whole unwritten book could probably be summed up in two words: toughness mattered. 

In reality, fighting mattered.  Over my days as a Viper, I saw our trainer get told to beat up our opponents mascot (and saw the resulting assault charges), watched my coach thow my stick like a javalin at our opponents, saw our team bombarded by navel oranges, saw a steel gate thrown at our opponents coach, and saw much, much (much) more.  Toughness mattered.

Matt Moulson wasn’t tough yet.  Our captain also happened to love Vandekamps style, and hated that this kid thought he was a fancy-pants.

During intermissions of those tryouts, fights were set up between kids for the next period like Don King was the assistant GM.  It “never came from the coaches”, but we all knew it did.  Someone would walk into the dressing room and say “Waddell, you’re fighting Singer next period”.  The whole group of players trying out were basically Roman gladiators looking for the thumbs up or down from Caesar Vandekamp (22 fights in the final scrimmage, with me accounting for 0.0% of them).  I’m not gonnal lie, it was more than a bit scary.

Apparently, there's life after getting cut in junior hockey

Apparently, there's life after getting cut in junior hockey

So, our captain (this time on his own merit) sent word to our dressing room that he was fighting Moulson next period whether Moulson was fighting him or not.  Matt had four goals in the previous game.  Four.  Moulson was so good they had already put him up with a bilet family and a teammate - who, as fate would have it, happened to be the captain.  He must’ve thought “why should I have to fight anyone?  I should have fighters protecting me.”

What basically ended up happening, is that our captain chased the kid all over the ice.  Moulson wouldn’t fight him.  They were roommates for the year, for f$@%s sake.  After a couple periods, most people couldn’t figure out why Moulson wouldn’t just drop his gloves, seatbelt the guy, and go down.  Just get it over with.

Well, our captain eventually caught him and Moulson did exactly that.  He held on so tight he broke or dislocated his fingers, I can’t remember which.  Either way, our coach was so disgusted by the performance that he cut the guy in the next day or two.  He was second or third in points during camp at the time, tall, and could skate like the wind.

And that was the last time I saw Matt Moulson.

Oh, and for the record – our scrappy team advanced all the way to the BCHL league finals that year before losing in game six to a Chilliwack team that had NHL names like Jeff Tambellini, David Van Der Gulik, and Gabe Gauthier.  We were probably a goal scorer short of being national champions that year.

In retrospect, it’s funny how three people I ended up liking (coach, captain and Moulson) were involved in such a string of shitty decisions.  Who knows where the kids career would be if he had made the team.  Maybe he gets buried by a coach who thinks he’s soft, doesn’t play, and quits at 20.  It’s a crazy game, dude.


24 Responses to “A Matt Moulson Story”
  1. Rudy says:

    “roommates for the year, for flips sake”.

    You’re losing credibility as a hockey writer by using the term ‘for flips sake’. No hockey player in history has ever used it.

  2. jtbourne says:

    You’re totally right. I get a lot of heat from real news sources about cleaning up my language, and it’s been catching on a little too strong. I’m going back to fix that.

  3. ny711ot says:

    That is a great story!

  4. Far North says:

    I’m not even going to try to be tactful. That coach sounds like an idiot.

    If I’m this angry after reading about a years-old injustice against a complete stranger, I can only imagine how Moulson must have felt, having his future determined by a bully who valued fighting over talent. Still, Moulson ended up in the pros, so he obviously overcame the setback.

    I’d like to read a column about how hockey players deal with mistreatment by their coaches.

  5. Will77 says:

    This is whats so nuts about this thing we do; sometimes its pissing off a guy on your own team that can make a chain reaction that results in damaging a career.

    Watching the game on TV last night was the first look I’ve got at Moulson, looked pretty decent. I liked that on his goal, as soon as he got the puck on his stick on the goal line, he was utterly determined to get that puck in 5-hole.

  6. Will77 says:

    and to Far North: I’m sure anyone thats played for a few years and has gone through the travel team ranks could write book(s) on coach mistreatment.

  7. Neil says:

    Cool story… I don’t know who I agree with, the coach who doesn’t want a guy on the team who won’t fight/take orders (maybe you guys needed toughness more than a goal scorer), or the player who wants to make the team and fit in but refuses to fight just because some guy tells him to (you need peter sykora to fight a bear out of principle (?) or he can’t be on your top line?). Or the captain, chasing the guy around the ice and thinking either “man I wish I didn’t have to do this” or “man I’m going to pummel this idiot when I catch him”. Madness. Seriously Bourne, how the hell did you and your dimples get through this mess alive? We used to bring a couple pairs of boxing gloves to a friend’s place when we were in highschool and getting Bourne to even spar with anyone was next to impossible because the guy had ZERO interest in throwing punches at people, whether it was for fun or not.

  8. Travelchic59 says:

    I started to post something completely politically incorrect than thought better of it since it’s not in my nature to paint all people with the same brush stroke. But I am shaking my head after reading this. Far North I am in total agreement with your feelings on this subject. I love Canadian people, but sometimes I wonder if all that cold weather has frozen your brains when it comes to fighting and bad behaviour on the ice since most of you will justify it as “part of the game.” This comes from someone who has been watching hockey for well over 30 years and a season ticket holder and not some novice who has never seen a game.

    Rant over and after rereading this, I did paint you all with the same brush. My bad. Justin you can delete this post if you feel insulted by it as that was not my intent. Just sayin. . . .

  9. jtbourne says:

    Haha, I know right? I edited out the original last few lines I wrote, which were that I’m actually infititely grateful to that coach because he “un-fairied” me, for lack of a better term.

  10. jtbourne says:

    Hell no, don’t worry about my feelings. It’s absolutely ridiculous. We all knew it at the time too, in context. Ridiculous.

  11. AiH says:

    What does any of this have to do with Bourne’s fantasy hockey team finishing dead last this season?

  12. Patty B says:

    AiH…….I commend you on your focus! Not too much trash talkin’ coming from the Southwest yet………..

  13. BW says:

    Great story JT but I saw it a bit different. Moulson wasn’t a lock to make the team, he was a 165 pound unknown, 17 year old Midget player from Ontario at his first junior camp. Williamson was a 20 year old, 220 pound BCHL heavyweight who had 250+ PIMS and over 20 fights the year before. Moulson hung on as you described in round 1, but they went again a second time in that game, in the third peiod and Moulson actually held his own and landed a few shots. Agree, the coach was nuts which is why his tactics wore thin quickly and he didn’t last more than 2 years with any team in the BCHL.

  14. jtbourne says:

    You know Matt Moulson’s weight from eight years ago? Wow.
    The point of the story is that the kid was good enough to make the team and got cut for looking soft. But you’re right, he did agree to fight Williamson the next game (though “landed a few shots” doesn’t trigger any memories).
    As for the coach, he picked up with Vernon after coaching six years in Merritt, a few of those as the head coach – and both of my years we made the BCHL finals, the second of which we swept, so he was doing something right. That in mind, his tactics did wear thin. You can only coach by fear for so long, basically until people starting thinking “f it, do your worst”.

  15. jtbourne says:

    Hahaha, did you LOOK at the teams? I’m all WCHA baby. Stacked top ta bottom (minus Marc Staal).

  16. rm says:

    Great story. I like hearing about the inner workings of a team and the personalities at play. Like most anything else, there are subjective aspects to hockey, and if your coach has an idealized version of what his perfect player is, if you don’t fit that mold, there isn’t much you can do. I found this out in high school, realizing I would never play varsity soccer, so I switched to field hockey where my tenacity, and ability to play my position were appreciated.

    I hope Matt feels that despite that cut in Jrs, things worked out ok for him. Those of us who follow Cornell Hockey are very glad Matt spent four years playing for the Big Red. He made one Frozen Four and came oh so close to another one (2006 Green Bay Regional, triple OT 1-0 loss to Wisconsin). I guess I should amend my statement in you previous blog entry, I only like 1-0 games when my team wins.

  17. Simone says:

    Good story – thanks for the peak into the things hockey players go through while trying to carve out a career on the ice. Being in New England, I got to watch Matt play quite a bit with the AHL Monarchs. Lucky for him he’s finally free of the Klunks, er, Kings organ-eye-zation and maybe will have a real chance to make it to the big league.

  18. John says:

    Great story. ..I hope Moulson does well in the NHL. Like another poster wrote, the inner-workings/politics of sports teams at higher levels are quite fascinating. I don’t know if you, or your readers watch the HBO series Hard Knocks, where they follow a football team’s training camp. It’s highly addicting, and offers quite a perspective on how difficult it is to actually end up playing pro football on Sundays. I wish some network would do such a series about hockey training camp. Or perhaps they do in Canada?

  19. Jbrown says:

    I’m drunk right now, but that guy looks like what Michael Jackson would look like if he were created by natural causes.

  20. BW says:

    I don’t actually remember the weights, just the fact Williamson was 3 years older and outweighed him by at least 50 pounds, but Moulson stepped up and fought him twice. (It was that same night they fought the second time, not the next night you indicated above.) Although he was hesitant at first, I thought the kid showed some balls going back for more.

  21. jtbourne says:

    Really good point, he definitely did. Apparently though, not enough in coaches eyes.

  22. jtbourne says:

    Haha, yesssssss.

  23. Cole says:

    Holy cow good for Mr Moulson! I can’t believe this is the same guy who was in Vernon. Wow!

    I remember those orange-tossing days and you summed it up perfectly with the gladiator / Caesar metaphor. Great writeup!

  24. holly says:

    Love the story on Matt. Having followed him for the past few years in the Kings organization (I live close to their AHL affiliate where he spent most of his time), I think that the Isles have gotten a diamond in the rough with him. When put on a line that just clicks, it’s a really special thing to watch. We got glimmers of that when paired with Teddy Purcell, but seems like he and JT have the potential to really be part of the pick-me-up the Isles are in need of. And he’s a great guy. Last time I ran into him was last spring, close to playoff time. I asked him who he was rooting for, and he was really excited for Byron Bitz one of his college buddies getting to play.

    Also, here’s a letter he wrote for his high school newsletter in the fall-ish of 2001 about getting to where he was then.

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