Following a year off from hockey that proved to be the most challenging of Dominic Moore's life, the forward returned to the NHL by signing with the New York Rangers, the team that selected him in the third round of the 2000 draft.
It's a much-anticipated comeback for Moore, who put his career on hold to be with his wife, Katie, who was diagnosed last year with a rare form of liver cancer before succumbing to the disease in January.
"It was a very difficult decision to not play. At the same time, it was definitely the right decision," Moore said. "I think for anyone who has cared for someone with cancer, it's a battle the whole family is in. After you've been through that, you need some time to reorganize and just kind of regroup."
When Moore did decide he was ready to resume his NHL career, his first choice was the Rangers, the club he helped as a rookie to a surprising 2005-06 season. Despite low expectations for a team with no big-name talent after star wing Jaromir Jagr, the Rangers defied skeptics and finished sixth in the Eastern Conference. Another prominent rookie on that team was an unheralded goaltender named Henrik Lundqvist, who seven years later is the only player remaining on the club.
"It's funny that he's the only one still there from our rookie season. We've stayed pretty close throughout the years. I can't wait to be his teammate again," said Moore, who signed a one-year contract July 5. "I couldn't be more excited. I have great memories from over the years playing at Madison Square Garden, both as a Ranger and as a visiting player. It's always been one of my favorite places to play, if not the favorite."
Moore returns to the Rangers a very different player from the 25-year-old rookie of 2005-06. After breaking into the League in New York, the two-way veteran has suited up for eight teams. Despite his nomadic career, Moore's veteran savvy has always been in demand. He played in back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals with the Montreal Canadiens in 2010 and 2011 with the Tampa Bay Lightning, with whom he set a career mark of 18 goals.
Now 32, Moore returns to the Rangers as a refined veteran. But having recently experienced an unthinkable loss, he brings the kind of real-life experience and perspective few people can imagine.
"I'm grateful for the time [Katie and I] had. In a way, those months were the most special months we had with each other that anyone can possibly ask for. Despite it being the most difficult and painful months that anyone can possibly expect or deal with," said Moore, who acknowledged the support he and his family received from the hockey community. "Hockey is a small world. I've been very lucky. Katie and I are both very happy to have the network of support and family. We're very grateful for that support all the time, throughout the illness but also afterwards."
"It was a very difficult decision to not play. At the same time, it was definitely the right decision. I think for anyone who has cared for someone with cancer, it's a battle the whole family is in. After you've been through that, you need some time to reorganize and just kind of regroup."
-- Dominic Moore
After alerting his agent that he wished to play again, Moore kept himself busy. He trained hard for the rigors of the upcoming season, even returning to his alma mater Harvard University, where he practiced with the school's tennis team. But he's been just as active in that time preserving Katie's memory.
Following his wife's passing, Moore established the Katie Moore Foundation, an organization "dedicated to helping patients and families with rare cancers through research, advocacy and community." The foundation collects donations online and will be the primary beneficiary at Smashfest, a charity ping pong tournament to be held July 25 in Toronto that will feature Moore alongside other NHL players, including Logan Couture, Joel Ward, Martin St. Louis and David Clarkson.
It's a brave new chapter for Moore, one that will continue when he suits up this season for the team that gave him his first break in the NHL.
"I didn't really try to get ahead of myself. If there's one thing that the process has taught me, it's take things one day at a time," Moore said. "That's what I've been doing in general. Just living one day at a time and not worrying about what's going to happen too far down the road. That's been good for me. To just focus on the things I control and my day-to-day routine."