Philadelphia Flyers forward Jason Akeson and New York Rangers defenseman John Moore only played one season together with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League, but it was a successful one that proved crucial in the development of each player.
Four years later, the former teammates are playing in the Eastern Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
With the Rangers leading their best-of-7 series 3-2, any fond memories between the two have been put on hold heading into Game 6 on Tuesday at Wells Fargo Center (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN, RDS, MSG, CSN-PH).
"He was a great teammate and a good friend. I talk to him every now and then. It's kind of funny, getting older now and running into him in the NHL playoffs," Moore said. "I haven't reached out to him [lately]. After the series, maybe there's time for that."
Each player is enjoying a strong series for his respective team. Navigating New York's third defensive pairing with veteran Kevin Klein, Moore has been a steady force on the blue line and has earned minutes on the Rangers' second power-play unit. Akeson is skating on Philadelphia's third line with Sean Couturier and Matt Read, as well as on the second power play unit. He has contributed some big plays in the Flyers' two wins, including the tying goal in Game 2 and a kick pass that led to the game-winner in Game 4.
But Akeson's first playoff run got off to a tough start. The rookie took a four-minute high-sticking penalty in the third period of Game 1 that led to two Rangers goals and a 4-1 New York win. Moore didn't have to think long when asked if he felt bad at that moment for his former junior teammate.
"To be completely honest, absolutely not," Moore said. "When the series is over, there will be time to resume all that stuff. Right now it's all about our group in here."
Each player still has indelible memories from their season together in Kitchener. A transplant from Chicago of the United States Hockey League, Moore was a shy youngster who seemed to get along with everyone. Akeson, an Ontario native, was known more for cracking jokes and riding around in a car he affectionately named "the Pearl."
Despite their opposite personalities, they hit it off.
"He's a good guy, really polite guy. Really just a stand-up, straight-edge guy," said Akeson, who is enjoying the unique dynamic of playing against an old friend. "I always like the extra edge that it pushes you. You always want to be better than that guy. It gives you a little extra edge that pushes you a little harder to play harder against him."
Their one season with Kitchener was packed with so many memories, it's no wonder Akeson and Moore still recall fondly their time together. They played on a powerhouse Rangers team featuring future first-round draft picks Jeff Skinner, Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan Murphy.
The 2009-10 Kitchener Rangers appeared to be a team of destiny, taking a 3-0 series lead against the defending Memorial Cup champion Windsor Spitfires in the OHL's Western Conference Final. But a vaunted Spitfires team featuring future NHLers Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, Ryan Ellis and Cam Fowler won four straight to advance to the OHL Final before winning their second straight Memorial Cup.
That painful experience was valuable for Akeson and Moore.
"That case there was probably one of the bigger high-pressure moments before coming to the NHL and playing in the playoffs," Moore said. "As an 18-year-old, it definitely grooms you and gets you ready for what's ahead. It was a fun year, it just [stunk] the way we lost."
Each player is looking to create new and more pleasant memories in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Until their first-round playoff series is completed, any feelings of camaraderie between Moore and Akeson will have to take a backseat.