Photo by Joey Lounsbury (www.jlounsburyphoto.com)
Yesterday afternoon, Jay Meloff arrived at Denver International Airport, hockey bag in tow, prepared to show off his skills at the three-day free agent tryouts for the Denver Cutthroats set for this weekend.
Jay knows there will be competition—there is a limited number of spots available for defenseman—but he’s not focusing on the other guys who will be there. "I can’t be worried about anybody else. I just have to take care of my own business," he said.
Despite a tumultuous past few weeks, Jay has maintained his rigorous training schedule. He feels prepared and is positive he will perform well enough to garner serious attention from Cutthroats’ head coach Derek Armstrong, General Manager Eric Newendorp, and Assistant General Manager/Director of Hockey Operations Brent Cullaton. Jay brings more than just skill to the rink, however. He also brings leadership and character, both of which are vital to an upstart hockey team.
One thing Jay doesn’t bring to the table is arrogance. Although he’s confident in his abilities, he doesn’t like talking about them. He’d rather let his play tell the story of his talent. From what trainers, current professionals and agents say about what they've seen of him, he has the ability to play at the CHL level and beyond.
Jay is of the new generation of defensemen: guys who are solid at both ends of the ice. He likes to have the puck on his stick and can join in the rush to create scoring chances. He has good vision and stays calm under pressure, allowing him to generate offensive opportunities with well-placed outlet passes. He also is strong in the defensive zone, able to control the play and win the battles along the boards.
At 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, Jay isn’t the biggest of players, but he’s smart and conditioned, a combination that helps him stand up to opposing players who think they can push him around. It wasn’t always this way, of course. As players grow up, they identify areas in need of development, and to this end, Jay looked to model that part of his play after a notorious bad boy in the NHL: Chris Pronger.
Without a doubt, Pronger is one of those borderline players who skates that line between aggressive and dirty. While Jay will never be a dirty player—it’s simply not in his nature—he does appreciate the way in which Pronger creates space for himself. Because of his hostility, players don’t want to go near him. It’s that aura Jay has worked to build into his game.
Pronger isn’t the only NHL player Jay looks to for inspiration. He also values the skills Nicklas Lidstrom brought to the ice. "When he comes out from behind the net to start a breakout," Jay said, "there’s no nerves, and he always makes the easy play on the tape every time. He rarely does anything flashy." In the past, Jay’s role as an offensive-defenseman sometimes brought with it the desire to make the pretty play, taking risks that could create a rush by the opposition. Over the past few years, however, Jay has worked to take that aspect out of his game, to be more precise and make the kind of play Lidstrom would. The result is a two-way player who can be used in any situation.
But don’t think Jay wants to be considered the second-coming of anyone. He has his own style, one that extends off the ice, as well. He has an industrious nature, an outgoing personality, and a philanthropic spirit. He is fully committed to being the best player he can be, and he is constantly working to improve himself, never taking a shift off even in practice. His agent, Russ King, said of Jay, “I have never seen a pro hockey player as tough and dedicated as Jay Meloff. From being dropped at a train station with all his gear and having to walk to a rink in a town he had never been, to being thrown out of a bedroom by a senior player in the house he was living—thus having to sleep on a couch for 6 weeks—he just couldn’t be broken. He kept producing at the pro level. He has an above-normal work ethic and toughness.” He uses that fierce dedication to set an example in the locker room and helps keep it cohesive through humor and leadership. And he gives back to the community, choosing to take part in the rotation for volunteer work rather than seeing it as a requirement that has to be done.
Another aspect of Jay’s game that makes him stand apart is his ability to jump up to the forward position if needed. In the past, his coaches asked him to step into a forward role; not only did he handle himself, Jay was successful, continuing to generate offense and provide solid defense. Although it’s not his desired position, he’s going to make sure Coach Armstrong knows it’s a part of his repertoire. "If it fits me better to play forward for this team, I’ll play forward," he said.
Nerves and excitement are sure to grow as August 11 nears, but Jay is a professional. When he hits the ice, it will be all about doing the job. Right now, his job is to make the Cutthroats, and based on his preparation and talent, he certainly has a very good shot at it.