An important piece of the New York Islanders was in Riverhead on Sunday.
Matt Moulson, the team’s skillful left wing, figures he had played street hockey (or ball hockey, as he calls it) every day from the time he was 5 years old until he was about 15. He doesn’t get the chance to play much street hockey nowadays, though, being kept busy scoring goals for the Islanders. On Sunday, though, Moulson got back in touch with the roots of the sport he loves, taking part in a street hockey clinic for youngsters at the Stotzky Memorial Park rink.
“It makes you remember why you do this,” Moulson said. “Sometimes during the season, 82 games, it gets a little tedious and you forget that. This reminds you how much you love the game and not [to] get caught up in the business side of it and things like that. This is a good reminder that you play for the love [of the game] like these kids.”
Hockey has been a big part of Moulson’s life for about as long as he can remember. The 27-year-old Canadian said, “When I could walk, my dad had me with a stick in my hand [playing] in my basement.”
Moulson went on to play in much bigger venues. He started his National Hockey League career playing a couple of seasons with the Los Angeles Kings before the Islanders signed him as a free agent last July. A left-handed shooter, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Moulson completed his fourth season in the league, and second with the Islanders, with 31 goals and 22 assists, tying him with Pa Parenteau for second on the team in points (53). He was the team’s second-leading goal scorer behind Michael Grabner, who bagged 34. (When youngsters were asked how many goals Moulson scored this past season, one of them guessed 54. “I wish,” said Moulson.)
For his career, Moulson has 67 goals and 44 assists in 193 NHL games.
Moulson spent a splendid spring afternoon on Sunday joining the Islanders Ice Tour in Riverhead. Along with the team’s mascot, Sparky, he helped out in a clinic run by Pete Walters, a former national team coach who is the American Street Hockey Institute’s New England regional director. Moulson demonstrated playing techniques and signed autographs.
Since his arrival at Nassau Coliseum, Moulson has been embraced by the team’s fans.
“Matt is probably one of the most popular players on our team right now,” Ann Rina, the Islanders’ community relations manager, said. “Matt is a great guy. Since joining the Islanders, he’s made a great impact on the Long Island community here, making himself available for events, whether it’s going to schools or going to hospitals, participating in our street hockey programs here.”
The Islanders are coming off a season in which they finished last in the Atlantic Division with a 30-39-13 record and failed to qualify for the playoffs. Moulson is optimistic about the future, though. “I thought we really came together in the second half” of the season, he said. “Obviously, it was a tough start. There’s a lot of bright spots, a lot of good things to look forward to.”
The Riverhead Recreation Department is looking forward to the creation of a street hockey league, the impetus for this, the second clinic the park has hosted since last fall. A park attendant, Ken Drumm, said about 90 youngsters attended the two clinics.
“Long Island is one of the hotbeds for street hockey,” Walters said. “It always has been.”
Moulson grew up outside of Toronto. He said Riverhead compares favorably to his hometown. “I don’t think we had the nice outdoor hockey rink,” he said. “We had to play on the tennis courts. People started complaining. I think that was the best that we had. It’s an extremely nice area. I wish I had grown up around here.”
What message did Moulson want to convey to the young players?
“You got a long way to go,” he said. “Just have fun with it. I think hockey is a great sport. A lot of kids love playing it. You play because it because you love it, whether it’s 10 years, 20 years or 25 years. Enjoy it while you do it.”
Youngsters ooohhhed and ahhhed as Moulson fired shots on goal with speed and precision in a shooting demonstration. Walters, who coaches the four-time national champion Greater Boston Stars, admired Moulson’s skills.
“That’s why he scored those 31 goals,” Walters said. “He’s got a nice wrist shot, I’ll tell you right now, and a great slap shot, too.”
“I’m going to sign him up for my national team if he’ll come along,” Walters joked. “But it might be in conflict with his NHL contract, so we may have a problem there.”