Saturday, April 25, 2015

Future NHLer Stevie Moses Reflects on UNH Career

Stevie Moses UNH Wildcat
Steve Moses in KHL

"It's a game in my career I'll never forget, but I wish I could forget."

That was Stevie Moses' initial reaction when I asked him about his final game as a UNH Wildcat. He had a wry smile as he said it, but the bitter disappointment of losing in double overtime to Boston University in the 2012 Hockey East Quarterfinals was still apparent during our FaceTime interview on January 30th.

As the senior Alternate Captain, Moses lead the 2011-12 UNH squad in goals. He tallied 22 goals, including 4 game-winners, and added 13 assists. The Wildcats finished the regular season in 6th place in Hockey East and faced the 3rd-place BU Terriers in the opening round of the Hockey East Playoffs. That BU team was loaded with 8 NHL draft picks, including second rounders Matt Nieto, Alex Chiasson, and Adam Clendening. In addition, two standouts on this year's NCAA runner-up team - Cason Hohmann and Evan Rodrigues - were freshman.

In Game 1, UNH defeated BU 3-2 in double overtime. BU rebounded with a 4-2 win in Game 2. In the decisive third game, UNH outshot BU 72-55 but lost in double overtime 5-4. Stevie Moses was held to just one goal in the series despite firing 20 shots on goal. In fact, Moses registered a remarkable 177 shots on goal over the 37 game season. John Henrion had the second highest shot total with 125 SOG.

Now, just three years later, Stevie Moses has achieved a level of professional success which may come as a pleasant surprise to UNH fans. When I interviewed Stevie on January 30th, he had just scored his 33rd goal of the season in the Kontinental Hockey League - the second best professional hockey league in the world after the National Hockey League. He was in his third season with Jokerit based in Helsinki, Finland. Just one week later, Moses tied the KHL record for most goals in a season when he potted #34 and #35. Then, with just 5 games remaining in the regular season, Stevie Moses broke the KHL single season goal-scoring record.

In the second installment of my series of articles on Stevie Moses, he discussed how his success playing in Finland had set him up with coveted options for his playing future. His agent had already talked with several NHL teams about signing as a free agent next season. Moses was also weighing the option of playing for one of the Russian-based teams in the KHL which would have meant a hefty increase in salary.
"This is a job where I can only play for 10-12 more years and you have to think about your life after and what you want to do after your playing career is over. As much as it’s about the dream of playing in the NHL, you want to be pretty comfortable financially when you’re done playing."
Two weeks ago on April 9th, Moses took a giant step toward meeting his goals of playing in the NHL and acquiring financial security. The Nashville Predators announced, that Steve Moses had signed a one-year, $1 million contract for the 2015-16 season. When I spoke with him in late January, he stressed the importance of signing a one-way contract, and that's what he got. He will earn the $1 million regardless of whether he plays for the Predators or their AHL affiliate. In addition, having a one-way contract means he has to clear waivers before being sent down to the AHL.

The day before Moses signed his NHL contract, more good news came his way. He was selected to play for Team USA in the 2015 World Championship from May 1-17 in the Czech Republic. He will join other American-born NHL players who are not participating in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as well as a few top NHL prospects from the college ranks.

Stevie Moses' four-year career at the University of New Hampshire set the stage for his success as a professional hockey player. In this final installment of my January 30th interview with Stevie**, he talks about his experiences as a UNH hockey player.

Stevie Moses as
a Junior Bruin
Mike Lowry:
"My understanding is that you were recruited by a number of schools including Boston College. Have I got that right?"

Stevie Moses:
"Ya, I had a lot of interest when I was playing juniors. It came down to Maine, UNH, Dartmouth, and Boston College. Maine, UNH and Dartmouth wanted me to come in 2008 and BC wanted me to do an extra year of juniors and come in 2009. I committed early in my junior year of high school so it was two years before I was going to enroll."

"BC was saying you need to do your final two years of high school then an additional year of junior hockey because they already had a group of guys committed for the 2008 class. They were similar players to myself – Cam Atkinson, Paul Carey – so BC already had a good class coming in 2008."

"Scotty Borek was the first of all those schools to talk to me. I went up to UNH for an interview so I had been talking to them for the longest. I felt it was the best fit for me. Of course, growing up in Massachusetts, BC was intriguing but when it came down to it, I really felt good with Coach Umile and Borek and Coach Lassonde at the time. I really had good talks with them all. It made it an easy decision."

"At the time, Dartmouth was really in the mix but they didn’t offer athletic scholarships as an Ivy League school. It would have been too expensive. I wanted to play hockey, that was my main interest, so UNH was the best place to do that. It worked out well for me."

"I think Coach Borek is a great recruiter and a good assessor of talent. I think Coach Umile puts a lot of trust in him. When Coach Borek says this player is going to fit into our system, Coach Umile listens to him. Obviously, Coach Umile has been there so long, he doesn’t do quite as much travelling and scouting, I think, as some of the other head coaches who are a little bit younger."

"Scott and Dave (at the time) do a lot of the recruiting. They must have watched me play 50 to 75 times before I committed. They followed all the recruiting rules by the book. They also spoke with my parents. My Dad’s been a huge part of my hockey career. He was my coach and my parents still watch every game I play in. My Dad spoke to Scotty a lot and he and I trusted the UNH coaches."

"Obviously, it was an early decision. I was pretty young, 16 years old I think, and it was the right decision for me."

Mike Lowry:
"The trend in recruiting is to have players commit at a very young age. UNH just got a verbal commitment from a 14-year-old youngster named Joel Farabee. Schools like UNH can’t wait until the kid develops into a superstar at 18 or 19 and then pick him up like the BC’s and Michigan’s can. What do you think about this trend?"

Stevie Moses:
"It’s kind of a necessary evil in my opinion. Even when I made the commitment to UNH, I was young. I didn’t have all the information. Like I said, I’m thrilled with my decision but it doesn’t always work out that way. Also, I think it’s tough for schools to know what they’re going to get when they look at a 14, 15, even 16-year-old player. A lot changes from 16 to 18, especially 14 to 18."

"Like you said, it’s such a competitive business and everyone needs to do what they can to get an edge. If a guy watches a 14-year-old play and says the kid’s going to be a player, that’s their job and hopefully he does a good job evaluating the kid. Hopefully it works out for everyone involved."

"I think it’s the direction college hockey has been headed in for a long time now. Like you said, it’s obviously gotten to an extreme point with 14-year-old freshmen in high school committing. It is what it is and everyone has to deal with it."

Mike Lowry:
"You were one of the most electrifying UNH Wildcats to ever play at the Whittemore Center and generated an extraordinary number of shots on goal. One of your trademarks was what could be called the "unassisted shot on goal". That's when you would either steal or gather the puck, carry it through the three zones, or within the offensive zone, and fire a shot on goal without an opponent, or another teammate, touching the puck. Is this still an important part of your arsenal? Has it been more difficult to single-handedly generate offense at the professional level?"

NOTE TO READER: As this video highlight shows, Moses is still perfectly capable of generating offense on his own:

Stevie Moses:
"I think that was a strength, obviously, in college. I could skate and handle the puck higher than most guys at that level. I was able to do a lot of stuff on my own. Obviously, as you go up and play at higher levels like in the Finnish League, for example, I had to adapt a little bit at times, for sure. I think I've developed a lot, become a better hockey player and learning how to use my teammates better."

"For the fans and people watching the games it was fun to watch me try to do a lot of stuff on my own. It wasn't a selfish thing like I wanted to do it on my own but maybe I didn't see the guys as well as I do now."

"I was lucky enough, my first season here. When I came over here, it was during the NHL lockout and I was playing on the power play right away and my first power play was with Erik Karlsson (Currently the Captain of the Ottawa Senators). I was playing on the point with Karlsson as my partner. He's arguably the best offensive defenseman in the world. And we had Valtteri Filppula, one of the top Finnish players who played for the Detroit Red Wings (currently with the Tampa Bay Lightning) and his brother Ilari Filppula."

"I was lucky to play with some older guys and I really needed to move the puck with those guys because they were world class players. I think that helped me a lot to see that sometimes it's better to get open without the puck and try to find some open space without the puck. Sometimes when you have the puck, everyone's coming toward you and you learn how to move it."

"I think I've taken another step this season playing with some of the guys we have on the team now. We really try to move the puck as much as we can and try to create offense that way."

"The number of shots on goal is still an important part of my game. As I've been touring a lot this season, the media here is just crazy. It's like every game they ask 'how many more goals until you beat the record?'- the single season goal record. The record's 35, I have 33 so I'm getting close. What I always tell them is, as a goal scorer or a guy that's expected to score, I try to focus more on the chances that I get in a game and the opportunities I get. I focus on the number of shots on net to evaluate my performance as opposed to whether or not I scored."

"It's easy to get frustrated when you go 4 or 5 games without a goal if that's all you're focused on. But, I've been coaching myself to thinking - as long as I'm getting my chances and shots on net, the goals will come. The way you do it is to get the puck to the net whether it's shots, tips, getting chances. I still try to get 3, 4, 5, 6 shots a game. That's something I learned in college and Scotty Borek and Dick Umile really helped me with that. They helped me realize you don't always have to have the perfect shot, you just get the chances and eventually they'll go in."

"On a personal level, I've matured. At UNH, I was physically mature but mentally there were games, especially in my senior year, when I felt like I could dominate and do whatever I wanted. But there were games when I couldn't get that same level. I don't know if it was pressure or pressure I put on myself but I couldn't rise to the occasion every game. I couldn't play at my max all the time."

"Playing over here the last few years has really helped me become a pro in the sense that it's not about being good one out of every 3 games. It's about being good every game. Even on the bad nights, it's playing at 75% of your max rather than 30%. I think I've improved mentally and being mentally prepared every game. I realize I have a big opportunity here and so it's important to perform as close to my max as possible every shift in every game."

Mike Lowry:
"Have you found, talking to guys like Phil DeSimone, that they've had a similar experience as you in terms of finding it easier to play consistently night-in and night-out in the pros than it was in college?"

Stevie Moses:
"I've talked to a lot of guys about it and I think every player is different. I personally really didn't like the schedule in college hockey where you practice Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday then play on Friday and Saturday with Sunday off."

"To me, there was so much build up to the games that you start to overthink things. In the pros like the KHL, we have a game day then an off day, then a game, then an off day, then practice. We practice so much less, it's more game-to-game. You feel so much more relaxed in the game because you're so used to playing games as opposed to college where you're practicing so much and working on everything with so much focus and precision on every little thing you're doing."

"For me personally, when it came time for a game in college, I felt mentally it was a little bit tough. Of course, every player is different and some guys really thrive on that college setting. Still, it's different for everybody. I don't want to speak for Phil - he's still a really close buddy of mine and I know he's had success playing in Austria."

Mike Lowry:
"Less than two weeks after your final game with UNH - that tough, double-overtime loss to Boston University in the 2012 Hockey East Quarterfinals - you signed an Amateur Tryout Agreement (ATO) with the Connecticut Whale, the New York Rangers' AHL affiliate, and scored 2 goals in 9 games. What was that transition like for you?"

Stevie Moses:
"When I signed an ATO with the Connecticut Whale - it's not an easy situation for a player to come in at the end of the season and try to find a role in 5 or 6 games. It was important for me to go in and try to get my feet wet and learn a little bit about the business."

"When you're playing college hockey, it's competitive within the locker room for ice time and power play time but it's nothing compared to professional hockey players. It's how they feed their families and pay for their homes. It's a different atmosphere when you get into a business setting."

"My agent set me up to go play with the Connecticut Whale and it was important for me to go in and learn what it was like to play as a pro and how hard it is. We ended up going to the playoffs and I wasn't playing and getting a healthy scratch. They had a good team and they signed guys for depth but they didn't need me in the playoffs."

"I kept training and skating with the team and not playing at all and kind of being a bit miserable. I was missing the last couple months of college in April and May where all my friends were back at school and having fun. I was in Hartford, CT going on bus trips, trying to get into the lineup. I learned a lot about how much of a business it is so it was an important couple of months."

After three years of playing professional hockey with Jokerit in Finland and setting the single-season goal-scoring record in the Kontinental Hockey League, Stevie Moses has an excellent chance of making it in the National Hockey League. As he told me in our interview, the level of success he attains will depend, in part, on whether his team allows him to utilize his offensive strengths.

Former UNH star James van Riemsdyk certainly knows what it takes to succeed in the NHL. JvR likes Stevie Moses chances:
"Moses played with James van Riemsdyk at UNH and the pair lived together a couple summers ago. Van Riemesdyk, the Toronto Maple Leafs winger, says his friend is one of the most dedicated athletes he's ever met and recalled him having a timer on his watch beep every two hours to remind him to eat as part of a specialized meal plan. Even though Moses isn't particularly tall, van Riemsdyk says he's thick like Toronto teammate Leo Komarov and should be able to withstand the physical rigours that come with playing on a smaller ice surface. 'He skates like the wind,' van Riemsdyk told me. "He's really well built. He won't get thrown around over here.'"

** Special thanks to long-time UNH hockey fan Tina Thibodeau for helping to coordinate my interview with Stevie Moses.


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