Senior’s career undergoes a tuneup

Jeff Sherry

Gophers hockey player Nick Checco still remembers the first time his teammate, Jay Moser, picked him up in an old, beat-up TransAm. The paint was chipping, its body was rusty and it purred like a kitten.
“I was like, ‘How can this piece of junk run so good?'” Checco said. “That’s when I found out how good he is with cars. He’s a real grease monkey. A gear daddy.”
Moser said he picked up his mechanical skills in junior high after his parents were divorced. He and his father would get together and fix up clunkers. “It was kind of our bonding time,” Moser said.
Now whenever one of the Gophers has a car question, he comes to Moser. Last summer Checco had Moser inspect three trucks before he found one that was OK to buy.
Moser’s teammates are also looking to him for offense these days, which is quite a change from the recent past. Just as Moser has brought several cars back from the dead, the senior from Cottage Grove has also resurrected his college hockey career.
After no playing time during the first nine weeks of the season, the former defenseman is now a key member of Minnesota’s top line on offense. The Gophers’ No. 13 has racked up 13 points in 13 games this season.
But such success has been a long time coming. Moser, who earned all-state honors as a senior at Park Cottage Grove High School, accepted a full-ride scholarship at St. Cloud State. He saw regular playing time as a defenseman for two seasons before transferring to Minnesota.
“I wasn’t able to use the skills that I thought made me a good player,” Moser said. “Puck control has always been one of my better assets, and the philosophy there was to just dump the puck down every time we crossed the red line. I’m not a big, burly-type defenseman so it didn’t really fit my style at all.”
Although Moser hadn’t played at the National Hockey Center in three years, the student section there remembered him Saturday night. Students held signs like “Moser is Judas” during pre-game warm-ups. They also started chants of “Moser sucks” and “Moser is a sell-out” before the game.
What the Huskies’ fans didn’t realize, however, is that Moser hardly sold out by joining the Gophers. As a walk-on transfer, Moser receives no scholarship money. So like many other students, he is now deep in debt from college loans.
Moser also found himself deep on the Gophers’ defensive depth chart when he became eligible to play for the team. He had to sit out his first year at Minnesota because of NCAA transfer rules, and then struggled to become a regular in the lineup last season. A pulled abdominal muscle put an end to his frustrating year.
“I didn’t realize that there is a loyalty factor (Gophers coach Doug Woog) has toward the players he recruited,” Moser said. “This year I came in with the mind-set that I wasn’t going to get any breaks. I was really going to have to prove myself beyond what the other players would have to.”
And he has. Minnesota’s depth on defense prompted Moser to switch to forward this season, and he made the most of his opportunity when it came. Playing time became available over winter break when four regular forwards left for the U.S. Junior team. He showed flashes of brilliance in those games, and his role with the team has steadily increased.
Gophers assistant coach Tom Ward said Moser’s puck-handling skills and right-handed shot were factors in his elevation in the lineup.
“He’s really blossomed with his ice time,” Ward said. “Sometimes guys get a chance, and they don’t do much with their opportunities. But Jay has. He fills a role for us and he’s playing well.”
But Moser’s increased ice time hasn’t taken away from the time he spends under the hood. His current project is an old Chevy pick-up. He can’t say exactly what year it is because he’s used parts from 1974, ’76 and ’79 trucks while rebuilding it.
“By the time I’m done with it, it’s going to be something I can really be proud of,” Moser said.
Just like his hockey career at Minnesota.