Many standout college, junior, even minor-league hockey players come to a crossroads at some point early in their professional careers.
Can they be a scoring-line player like they have always been or do they need to re-invent or diversify their games much more to find a full-time job in the NHL?
Dominic Moore has always been ahead of that curve. The Lightning center, who scored more than a point a game at Harvard and was a scoring-line player in his first two years in the minors, has built on his strong two-way game each year, each place he’s been in his NHL journey.
“You have to have that flexibility and I’ve always prided myself on being a well-rounded player, trying to turn weaknesses into strengths,” Moore said. “Now, at this point in my career, it’s a feather in my cap. The little things all add up to a lot at the end of the day.”
While many of those players who would not expand their games are still in the minors or out of hockey, Moore is approaching his 400th NHL game and has an important role on a team with high expectations.
Since the opening day of training camp, the 6-foot, 192-pound Moore has fit the style Lightning Head Coach Guy Boucher wants the team to play. He has used his speed to force mistakes with a relentless work ethic and chipped in on a quick-strike offense.
Moore scored a goal in his only preseason game and has two goals and an assist in the first three games of the regular season – all of them wins for the Lightning.
“This system is built around playing the game without hesitation,” Moore said. “That’s always been something I’ve been comfortable with.”
Moore, 30, showed many of his talents on the winning play in overtime against Montreal Wednesday.
He battled Jeff Halpern to a tie in the face-off and shielded the puck to his right, allowing Ryan Malone to get to it and swoop toward the back of the Canadiens’ goal. Moore went straight to the net, shouldered a defender away and got to the loose puck first in the front of the net after it was deflected away from Malone. Moore took a quick shot, then absorbed a big hit, creating space for Malone to score on a rebound.
“To me, he’s a luxury,” Boucher said. “Some people say he’s a grinder. I don’t like that [term]. I just think he’s a versatile player. If someone on our top two lines is missing, I’d have no worries moving him there. He’s a top-notch penalty killer, is good under pressure in big moments and is smart defensively. He’s a guy that does it all.”
That complete game has been developed through many new addresses, seven in the NHL before making Tampa his home.
Moore grew up in Thornhill, Ontario, on the northern border of Toronto. Thornhill is a part of the town of Markham, where Lightning teammate Steven Stamkos is from. Moore later joined his older brothers Steve and Mark at Harvard. Mark was a defenseman, so they never played on the same forward line for the Crimson, but they were all on the ice together several times.
“That was the first time we were all on the same team, which was good for our parents to be able to catch one game instead of two or three,” Moore said. “College is some of the best years of your life and to share that experience with my brothers was pretty awesome.”
Mark Moore was a draft pick of Pittsburgh and played in the minors before injuries forced him to retire. Steve played 69 games for the Colorado Avalanche before suffering a serious concussion and neck injury, caused by a hit from Todd Bertuzzi in 2004, which ended his career.
Dominic stayed at Harvard for four seasons, scoring 64 goals and 147 points in 128 games.
Moore, a third-round pick in 2000, signed with the New York Rangers and joined their AHL affiliate the Hartford Wolf Pack for most of two seasons. He played five games for the Rangers in 2003-04, getting three assists in his NHL debut – becoming only the second Rangers player to record three points in a first game.
After scoring 19 goals for the Wolf Pack in the lockout season in 2004-05, Moore earned a spot with the Rangers and played in all 82 regular-season games and four in the playoffs. Moore had nine goals and nine assists, playing mostly a fourth-line role with a plus/minus rating of plus-4.
Despite the strong season, Moore was dealt to Pittsburgh in a three-way trade with Nashville that netted the Rangers current Lightning forward Adam Hall.
“That’s the New York Rangers way,” Moore said. “It’s the toughest organization of all to break in with because, even more so before the lockout, they tend to buy players instead of developing them. To break in there was an accomplishment in itself.”
Over the next four seasons, Moore played with six teams. He was waived once, traded for two second-round picks and a third. In between, Moore had 13 goals and 45 points in 2008-09 with Toronto and Buffalo, his top scoring season so far in the NHL.
Moore was a free agent before last season and signed with Florida. Playing for another team out of the playoff picture with a one-year contract, Moore was a sought-after player at the trade deadline and Montreal surrendered a second-round pick for him. Moore had 11 points in 21 regular-season games for the Habs and four goals in the playoffs for a team that made it the Eastern Conference Finals.
“I thought he was one of their guys that drove the most,” said Boucher, who coached Montreal’s AHL affiliate Hamilton last season. “That goes very well with my philosophy of hockey.”
Perhaps the seeds of a future with the Lightning sprouted during those 19 playoff games.
Moore said he really enjoyed his time in Montreal, but he could tell that they had a salary-cap plan that did not include him. He was a free-agent again and the Lightning stepped up.
“The biggest factors were that Steve Yzerman was in charge and I had a chance to speak with him and [Boucher],” Moore said. “I thought that was really valuable to talk to them before I made a decision.”
Moore signed a two-year contract with the Bolts on July 30 and has settled into his role neatly as the third-line center, first-call penalty killer and go-to face-off and defensive player.
Through seven NHL stops before Tampa, Moore played for a lot of different coaches with varied styles including Tom Renney, Michel Therien, Jacques Lemaire, Paul Maurice, Ron Wilson, Lindy Ruff , Peter DeBoer and Jacques Martin. He hasn’t stopped learning.
“It’s not fun to continue to move around like that,” Moore said. “But, at the same time, the challenges that you’re faced with make you stronger. It’s allowed me to build that character.
“If I ever want to be a coach or GM, I have a lot of things to draw upon. That’s valuable. I’ve picked up a little bit from everywhere along the way.”
And the Lightning are reaping the rewards of that.