A Matt Moulson StoryShareThis
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.
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.
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.