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by Andrew LeRay / New York Islanders
When it comes to hockey, there are players so naturally gifted it seems as if they were born with skates on their feet.  In Canada, toddlers glide across the ice, embarking on a journey that they hope will lead to a career in the NHL.  For some, the game comes easy.  Then there’s Matt Moulson.

“When I was three, (my dad) put me on the ice and I cried the whole time,” said Moulson.  “He said he wasn’t putting me on the ice ever again and then he brought me out again when I was four.  I’ve been playing ever since.”

Born in Toronto, Moulson spent his childhood in Mississauga, Ontario playing hockey in the streets during the summer and on frozen ponds in the winter.  While playing in the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL), Moulson was never considered a star.  In fact, when he was 14, Moulson says he was called, “the worst player in the GTHL” by a teammate’s mother.

Matt Moulson #26 of the New York Islanders keeps the puck in at the blue line against the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center on November 10, 2010 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
“I kind of hit my growth spurt a little late,” said Moulson.  “When everyone was about 12 or 14-years-old, I was a lot smaller than a lot of guys, and – as I am now – not the swiftest of foot.”

His diminutive size and lack of skating skill led to some painful experiences for Moulson.  He recalls one season when he suffered a broken wrist, two separated shoulders, and a concussion.

Too small.  Too slow.  Not talented enough.  These were criticisms that Moulson had been hearing his whole life.  And now he was getting tired of it.

“There came kind of a turning point where I really dedicated my time and efforts to hockey,” said Moulson.

After getting cut from his AAA-Midget team when he was 15, Moulson dropped down a level and played with the AA Mississauga Braves in the GTHL.  At this point, Moulson began juggling his Braves schedule with academics, hockey schools, off-ice workouts, and his high school hockey team. 

“It was just a year that kind of made it fun for me to play hockey again,” said Moulson.

At 18, Moulson walked-on with the Guelph Dominators of the Mid-Western Junior Hockey League.  He enjoyed a successful rookie season with Guelph and tried to parlay his solid play into a roster spot with the Sioux City Musketeers of the United States Hockey League.  After trying out, he was cut.  Next stop was Vernon, British Columbia to tryout with the Vernon Vipers of the British Columbia Hockey League.  He was cut again.

Without any more viable options, Moulson returned to the Dominators.  After sustaining a lengthy period of hockey heartbreaks, Moulson would finally be rewarded for his perseverance.  About 10 games into his season with the Dominators, Moulson received a phone call from Cornell University.

“They hadn’t told me I was getting in or anything, but the coach calls me and goes, ‘We’d like to offer you a spot, providing that you get in and everything’s fine with the academics,’” said Moulson.  “I actually didn’t realize how good of a school Cornell was.  I didn’t know it that much until my teachers in high school told me.”

Before Cornell could even make Moulson an official student, he broke the news.

“They said, ‘We’ve got to check the academics.  Keep it quiet.’  The next day it was in the Guelph paper,” said Moulson.  “I think I told everyone.”

Now an Ivy League student, Moulson quickly learned that a 24-hour day is sometimes too short for both hockey and school.

“My first semester I thought I was king of the pride there,” said Moulson.  “I thought I could just get by playing hockey and my teachers would just give me marks.  I soon realized that was not the case.”
The Applied Economics Major played four full seasons with the Big Red, and was named to the Eastern College Athletic Conference All-Decade Second Team.  He impressed NHL scouts enough to earn a free agent contract with the Los Angeles Kings.

Moulson spent the next two seasons bouncing back-and-forth between the Kings and their AHL affiliate, Manchester Monarchs.  A free agent once again, the New York Islanders signed Moulson to a one-year deal in July 2009.  An impressive training camp led Moulson to a leading role on a scoring line.  After a breakout, 30-goal season, Moulson signed his second contract with the Islanders, and hopes to improve on his numbers yet again.

Moulson’s road to the NHL was more winding and daunting than many, but he will never lose sight of the hardships he had to endure.

“As hard as it was at the time, I’m very fortunate to have gone through all those situations,” said Moulson.  “After going through that, I just love to prove people wrong.”

If the past is any type of prologue to the future, Moulson will continue to defy the odds for years to come.

“I’ve always loved to win,” said Moulson.  “I love to score goals, and that will drive me until the day I die.  I’ll be playing in a men’s league when I’m about 80 probably.”
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