Home / Home / Matt Moulson reminisces on years with Islanders and franchise’s turnaround

Matt Moulson reminisces on years with Islanders and franchise’s turnaround

In the midst of the Islanders’ first-round game four matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins at Nassau Coliseum, a highlight video played on the jumbotron.

Within moments, Matt Moulson appeared on the screen with a blue t-shirt in hand. The crowd inside the Coliseum erupted and chants of “Matty Moulson” rang out.

“It was awesome,” Moulson said during a phone chat with IslesBlog this morning. “I was excited to be there. My wife couldn’t come, so I brought my good friend from Long Island. I think he got an even bigger kick out of it than me. It’s something definitely appreciated. I’ll always cherish the time I spent with the Islanders. It was a touching moment getting that reaction from the fans.”

That afternoon marked the first time Moulson had been inside the Coliseum — the newly-furbished one — in a while. His wife had taken their son last year during the season with Josh Bailey’s wife Meghan and their kids, but Moulson wasn’t with them. “I was hoping to see some playoff games last year, but the bubble put that to bed quickly,” he said.

Moulson has been at a few of the games during the Isles’ run now. It’s a far cry from what things were like when the now 37-year-old first joined the organization prior to the 2009-10 season. Back then, he was an unknown forward who had yet to find his footing with the Los Angeles Kings. The Islanders signed him to a one-year deal in July, just a month after they had drafted his good friend, John Tavares, whom he grew up with number one overall. No one knew what to expect, but as Moulson tells it, in those early days and years that followed, him and a lot of the guys were just trying to establish themselves.

“The teams we had during those times, obviously some great veteran leadership with older guys,” said Moulson.

“But for the most part, including myself, we were all trying to break in to the league and do well. I tell people to this day it’s probably the closest team I ever played on. Some of those years how close we were on the ice and off the ice. Anytime anyone had any success, everyone was happy for them. “Unfortunately we couldn’t get a couple more wins. But that team was one of the most enjoyable moments of my professional career.”

Moulson wasn’t wrong about the whole getting more wins part. The three seasons before the Isles finally made the playoffs in 2012-13, they finished dead last each time in the Atlantic Division. From an individual standpoint though, he reached the most success in his career during that time. He scored 30 or more goals each of those years, and in 2011-12 he notched a career-best 36 goals and 69 points. That feat hadn’t been accomplished by an Islander since Zigmund Palffy from 1995 to 1998.

“It was kind of perfect timing,” Moulson acknowledged. “I was coming out of an LA organization where I didn’t have the success I wanted. When I got to the Islanders, I knew Johnny well and I still remember that first training camp in Regina. We played that first game in Terrace, B.C., and I didn’t think the year was going to the way it did for me personally after that first game. I should have maybe concentrated on getting a finance job with how well I played in that game. Things happened though, and luckily I was put on a line with Johnny and Kyle (Okposo) to start out the year and came out hot. Things took off from there. I think my confidence was as high as it ever was that first full year in the NHL. Being surrounded by great people really propelled me forward.

During those years, Moulson was teammates with four of the players still on the team now — Bailey as mentioned, Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck. Moulson was a bit of the elder statesmen then while those guys were still kind of new (outside of Clutterbuck). Seeing the success they are having now puts a smile on their former teammate’s face. “Bails, Marty and Clutter I keep in close touch with. I’ve texted Bails after every point he’s gotten after each game,” he mentioned. “It’s great to them doing so well. Just great people. You could see it when those guys were younger not just as players.”

The Islanders finally reached the playoffs in 2013 and it was the first sign of the franchise beginning to turn the corner after coming on hot late in the season. They faced the Penguins in the first round and got the split on the road leading into a game three back the Coliseum, marking the first postseason game in the building in seven years. Moulson would score the first goal in what he remembers as a moment he’ll never forget for the rest of his life.

“We had Drake’s ‘Started From The Bottom’ playing when we came out,” Moulson said. “Just hearing that gave you chills because that was us. Our team battled from the basement to get to where we were. It took a couple of years but we got there. Endured a lot of tough times on the way. Scoring that first goal, I had to calm myself down on the bench because my heart was in my throat from how loud it was. It was an unbelievable moment.”

Early on the following season, the Isles had trouble to start the year while trying to build off the previous campaign. G.M. at the time, Garth Snow, decided to shake things up in late October by dealing Moulson to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Thomas Vanek. Moulson was thrown back by it.

“When the trade happened, I was devastated,” he recalled.

Moulson was actually watching football with a few of his teammates over his house and they left just before Snow called.

“You quickly realize it was a business, but I was pretty emotional. As soon as I saw that name pop up on my phone I told my wife we were getting traded. When he told me it was Buffalo, I hung up the phone. That was tough. I wanted to be an Islander for the rest of my career. It was somewhere I loved, my family loved. It definitely sucked.”

After the trade, Moulson would go on to play a for Buffalo, Minnesota and Buffalo again. The last few seasons he’s been back in the AHL with Ontario and now Hershey, with whom this past season he helped win the Macgregor Killpatrick Trophy, the award given to the AHL team with the most points and highest winning percentage in the regular season. Still, he thinks about how much he loved being an Islander, the fans and where the team is now.

“It’s hard to fault the fans in those early years,” Moulson stated. “We weren’t doing so well. I think they wanted a winning team badly and a team that played hard. We eventually turned into that. That run to get into the playoffs in ’13, they were unbelievable.

“I enjoyed every moment with the fans. I got to know some of them, and even some of the things during warmups, they were great. Obviously the organization has turned into a powerhouse now, so it’s even more fun to go to the games now and see the energy they bring. Just being in the building, I was getting chills during the anthem and big moments during the game.”

As much as the franchise has changed since Moulson last donned the sweater, it’s hard not to think of him as a good part of the arduous process it took to get for to currently. But for him, it’s the those players he came up with. That’s where he feels the most gratification.

“I think seeing those guys I played with, maybe I shared something along the way or they gained something from me in terms of them doing well. I think it’s more pride in them doing well personally and as a team.”

 

 

 

 

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