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A LETTER FROM A HIGH SCHOOL HOCKEY PLAYER

by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings
This is an article written by Matt Moulson, who at the time, was a Junior B player from the Toronto area for his school’s (Mount Carmel High) Newsletter on his receiving a full-ride scholarship to play hockey for Cornell

On Oct. 2, 2001, I received a phone call from the coach of the Cornell Big Red, inviting me to play for his hockey team next year. Cornell is an Ivy League Division I NCAA university. Its hockey program which is ranked 11th in the United States, has a history of sending players to the NHL. The typical student accepted there has a 92 percent high school average. Tuition and board costs $50,000 Canadian per year. Last week NHL central scouting told me I would be on their draft list and might be selected late in next June’s draft. The Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightening have talked to my coach about me.

When Principal Selihar asked me to write something for this newsletter, he knew those facts. I believe he thought he was going to get a story about a confident person that always knew he was going to be a hockey player and always had the best hockey teams trying to sign him. I am not one of those stories.

When I was 14, one of the mothers of a player on my team called me the worst player in the GTHL. When I was 15 (playing for Stewie Heyduk’s dad), I broke my wrist, then separated my shoulder and just missed having my teeth knocked out when I was cut for three stitches on my upper lip, the result of my head being driven into the boards and my helmet falling off. In fact, I was injured most of the hockey season. At spring tryouts my team, with a new coach, cut me. I listened to people say I was too small, too slow and not talented enough to amount to anything.

I remember my dad during the drive home after tryouts saying, “Matt, I still believe in you. If you want to stay in hockey, we’ll give you all the support you need, but you will have to work like you have never worked before. If you want to pack it in, that’s ok too.”

At that point, my life changed. An NCAA scholarship that had previously been a wish, became my burning desire. I didn’t care how hard I was going to have to work. I didn’t care what team cut me or what anyone said about me. All I cared about was keeping my marks up and becoming a better hockey player. I wanted to prove to that mother what I already knew, she was dead wrong. I wanted to show the coaches who cut me they made a big mistake. Most of all, I wanted to prove to myself I could do it.

I went home and made a list of all the things I had to do to get to the NCAA. Each team I had to make and all the areas where I had to improve. I had to get physically stronger, shoot harder and skate faster. I read everything I could on how to improve my hockey skills, watched videos and spoke with anyone who might help me in those areas. I planned how I was going to train and then stuck to my training program.

Initially, it was not easy and many times it was not fun. I gave up Saturday night parties to go to hockey school. I woke up at 6 a.m. to run five miles, three times a week. I ran sprints and skated until my legs burned and felt like they were going to fall off. Although sometimes I wanted to sleep, I dragged myself to the gym to lift weights. When I started, I was bench pressing 55 pounds and leg pressing 250 pounds. I now can bench 240 and leg press 720.

Something funny happened. When I was young, I was taught good basic skills by my coach, Ryan Delmonte’s dad. As soon as I started to put every ounce of energy I had into going after an NCAA scholarship, other people came into my life to help me get there. My Oakville box lacrosse coach Chris Fennell, field lacrosse coach Blair Campbell and my Mississauga Braves hockey coach, Jim McGuire were what we call players’ coaches. In hockey, a players’ coach is one that is usually very positive. They will give you heck when you deserve it, but their specialty is in creating an environment where you feel that you can make mistakes. They (and their assistants) believed in me and were always very positive. Under them, I started to get my confidence back. Many others helped me as well. A local junior coach, Carey Durant, let me go to his skates whenever he had extra ice. Mr. Clark, a friend’s dad, gave me a harder program (including some “Olympic” weightlifting) than I was on by myself. Miss Dragicevic tutored me on how to improve my SAT scores. As my confidence improved, I was motivated to work harder.

That year I was asked to provide comments on a book written by Dan Bylsma (playing for the then-Mighty Ducks of Anaheim) and his dad, “So You Want to Play in the NHL.” Their book was one about life. Mr. Bylsma’s favorite saying became my inspiration, “It Takes Three Things to Succeed: Talent, Hard Work and Perseverance. And the Greatest of These is Not Talent.” When things went against me I pulled out their book and read that quote. I was convinced that no matter how bad things got, if I worked harder and longer than anyone else I would get to my goal.

My story would not be complete without mentioning my experience on the Mount Carmel hockey team two years ago. (Several players such as David Easterbrook, Kyle Reid, Mark Lipinski, Danny Palmateer and Mike Madersbacher are still around from that team). We were not supposed to do well, but Coaches Mr. Young, Mr. McCarthy, Mr. Burchill and Miss DeLazzer developed a cohesive team that believed in itself. We went all the way to the City semi-finals before losing by a goal. (I still have nightmares about missing a shot from the top of the slot with about a minute to go in that game. During the year, I was named MVP in a couple of games and that was announced over the PA system. Some of you would pass me in the hall and say, “Hey MVP.” I am sure you don’t know how much that meant to me. It provided unbelievable motivation for me to work harder and get better. You guys are a big part of my story. All of a sudden hockey was fun again. I couldn’t wait to put on the Crusader uniform.

The last two years I have played Junior B for the Guelph Dominators. My team is young with some character players with a lot of potential. We have a patient coaching staff (Scott Mosey and Ken Cook) and a fantastic owner. I have just kept working as hard as I could. Last year I was Guelph’s MVP in the playoffs. This year I am leading the league in scoring and have been named player of the month. I am listed as an “A” player on the NHL’s central scouting Tier 2 watch list. Sometimes I cannot believe what has happened to me, the “worst” 14-year-old AAA hockey player in Toronto. I still have a lot of work to do and even getting drafted is still a long shot. However, I am going to continue to work as hard as I can to get better.

I want to conclude by saying to everyone, if you have something you really want to achieve, it may take time, but you can do it. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are not smart enough or good enough to reach your goals. You will have ups and downs, but stay focused and never give up. Surround yourself with people who will support you (my friends and teammates at Carmel are the best) and go for it. When people see your commitment to your goals, they will help you achieve them.

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