Over his career, Jay Meloff faced many challenges. Bad luck and ill-managed teams saw numerous trades sending him across various leagues. Finances prevented him from following a path through the college ranks. Injuries and illnesses slowed him down, affecting camps and drafts. But no challenge was greater than the one that shook the country on Friday, July 20, 2012.
In an Aurora, CO, movie theater, a cowardly man committed a senseless crime, shooting bullets into the crowd and killing twelve innocent people. One of those people was Jay’s girlfriend, Jessica Ghawi. As would happen to anyone, the loss hit Jay hard, sending him into a world of shock and grief. As a result, making a decision about his participation in the Denver Cutthroats’ free agent camp in August was unfathomable.
Yet when Jay was finally able to ask himself those hard questions about his future, he realized he simply couldn’t give up his dream. "Yes, I am still trying out. This is what Jessi wanted, and I know she still wants it and is still rooting for me and will be there, cheering me on," Jay said. "It’s something I need to do. Jessi wanted me to achieve my childhood dream ... She would have done anything to get me on that team, and now I have to do anything and everything for her and for me to do it."
So Jay got back into his training routine. His intense workouts were originally designed to rebuild his body after a bout of mononucleosis left his 5-foot-11 frame weighing in at only 187 pounds, down from his previous weight of 205. He struggled for the first few days, unable to do more than 10 repetitions of bench presses or squats. But as the days passed, he became stronger.
Jay took advantage of a four week program that is designed to build a player’s maximum strength and convert it into power on the ice. Knowing he didn’t have a full month, Jay doubled up his workoutss in order to finish the program in half the time. It wasn’t long before he was back to where he was prior to getting sick.
But that wasn’t good enough for Jay, a person who pushes himself to get better at each new level he reaches in his career. So he upped his workouts to extreme levels.
Four days a week, he starts his day out at 6 a.m., eating a small breakfast before going to the gym, which is located in the same building as the ice rink he uses. For the next one-and-a-half to two hours, Jay uses weights to increase muscle tone. This first round in the gym is slow and deliberate with an emphasis on running the circuit with precision and focus. Jay then takes time to stretch before heading home for a protein shake, lunch and a nap, although sleep often eludes him.
He’s back at the gym four hours later, but this time he ups the speed at which he lifts. He goes through an interval training that elevates his heart rate while building muscle. He returns home for a meal high in protein and loaded with fruit. There was a time when Jay didn’t believe in taking supplements or drinking protein shakes, but that all changed after falling ill. Now they are a regular part of his routine.
Tuesdays and Thursdays start out much the same way: a 6 a.m. wake up call, small breakfast, slow and steady run through the weights for two hours. But then he hits the ice. He spends an hour and a half working drills alongside professional players, as well as guys who play at the junior and college levels. For the final thirty minutes of ice time, he joins those players in a fast-paced, high level game. Immediately after he sheds his gear, Jay is back in the gym for his interval training.
On Sundays, Jay takes it easy—or so he says. Again he’s up at 6 a.m., but this time he heads out for an hour-and-a-half run. With an aversion to long distance runs that incite boredom, Jay hits the beaches of Toronto. The sand adds resistance, and his high intensity interval running helps increase his explosiveness on the ice.
Two weeks ago, Jay began what he termed "hell week." He increased the amount of time he spent at the gym and in the rink. He begins his morning in the gym like always, but immediately afterward, he's skating. As soon as he steps off the ice, it’s to the locker room for a quick change, and then he heads back to the gym for his interval training. Within another two hours, he is doing skating drills and participating in games. This is his life on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday through Sunday is like always.
Why is he driving himself so hard? "It’s to push my body into overdrive," he said. "So when I do come into camp and I’m on the ice ... going all out for that entire time, it’s going to be a lot easier for me. And it’s going to, hopefully, have me at a higher level than everybody else." Put simply, he wants to be in better shape than his competition.
He also realizes the areas in which he needs to improve in order to play at this level. Foremost is speed. Jay disclosed that he made a goal way back in Juniors to be better than average. He wants to be fast on the ice at every level in which he plays. Tied into that is the desire to be quicker off stops and turns and increase the power of the first step in his stride. As he advances to those higher leagues, he knows he also has to improve his upper body strength. He admits that he’s a smaller guy out there, and the upper body strength he’s developing is crucial to his ability to stay on the puck and be strong in the corners against guys who have both inches and weight on him.
Jay relies on a number of things to push him to get better. He has an excellent trainer in Ben Davis. He has a playlist on his iPod that evokes positive memories. He has fortitude and character. And he has Jessi. She may not be there in person, but she’s still there. She’s beside Jay in everything he does and every improvement he makes. There’s no doubt she’ll be with him on the ice in August when he shows that he deserves to be on the Cutthroats. "She wants this," he said. "Jessi wouldn't have it any other way."
Next Up: Jay's thoughts and expectations for the open tryouts