It only lasted 1:34 on senior night for the University of Massachusetts men’s ice hockey team but it made years of toil and perseverance worthwhile for Kevin Moore.
For Moore, who first hit the ice with the Princeton Youth Hockey Association (PYHA) as a youngster, that stint was his sole appearance during his final campaign as the fourth-string goalie for the Minutemen.
While Moore would have liked to seen a lot more action last winter, he will never forget that evening at the Mullins Center.
“Looking back, it is the best day of my life,” said Moore, reflecting on getting into the UMass’s 5-1 win over Merrimack on March 2.
“I am getting a big smile on my face just talking about it now. All that behind the scenes work has paid off; I was cheered by people who didn’t even know me. It shows that a little guy can be recognized; a team is about everybody.”
The appearance was also the culmination of a Twitter campaign, #FreeMoore, started by Moore’s roommates and some stalwart UMass fans, to get Moore on the ice for senior night. It ended up drawing hundreds of Tweets, including some from NHL players intrigued by Moore’s underdog tale.
“My friends and family picked up on it and then my teammates started tweeting,” said Moore, who was cheered wildly by the crowd of 5,219 on hand, many of whom had been waving placards with huge images of Moore.
“It just blew up; celebrities and pro athletes got involved. There were tweets from NHL guys like James Van Riemsdyk, and Derek Stepan and John Buccigross of ESPN. Some guys were calling me the ‘Rudy’ of hockey (referring to the movie about Rudy Ruettinger, a walk-on who made it on the field for the Notre Dame football team).”
Later this month, Moore, 24, will be looking to produce another Rudy-like tale as he tries out for the Danbury Whalers of the Federal Hockey League.
“I love being part of a team and 25 guys coming together for one goal,” said the 6‘1, 180-pound Moore.
“I am still shooting for the NHL. I know it is a longshot. I don’t want to give up my goals. You saw what happened to guys like Kurt Warner and Tim Thomas. I look at their examples. I am going to work as hard as I can. I don’t want to be old and regretting that I didn’t give it my best.”
Moore took a circuitous route to become a member of the UMass team, starting his high school career at Montgomery High before playing two years at Williston-Northhampton (Mass.).
After trying out for several junior teams, he hooked on with the Phoenix Polar Bears of the Western States Hockey League (WSHL) where he went 16-4 with a goals against average of 1.98 in the 2008-09 season. He then got the chance to walk-on to UMass when one of its goalies decided to focus on baseball.
It didn’t take long for Moore to develop a passion for the game “I started playing hockey with the PYHA when I was five,” recalled Moore.
“I was playing soccer and I said to my parents that I wanted to play hockey and they said I had to make a choice and I chose hockey. I wanted to be on the ice all the time so I eventually switched to goalie.”
After Moore made the switch to goalie, he honed his skills by going to summer goalie camps run by former Princeton University netminder Craig Fiander.
“I started with Craig when I was about 10,” said Moore. “It was great to have goalie attention over the summer; you couldn’t get that anywhere else. Craig and the counselors were Princeton University goalies. Before that, I basically learned from watching goalies on TV. It made it easier to learn from having things explained to you by goalies who had played at a high level.”
Fiander, for his part, had the sense that Moore was going to develop into something special.
“I remember Kevin as a raw kid; he was just picking up the position and he was a lefty,” said Fiander, who held his 15th Annual Textbook Goaltending Summer School this past July at the Ice Land Skating Center.
“There was something about him. He was a great kid. He was a good student. He listened, he asked good questions, he wanted to learn.”
In Fiander’s view, Moore’s story exemplifies some of the key life lessons he strives to impart to his goalie students.
“He has worked his butt off,” added Fiander. “He has dealt with adversity. His perseverance is the key thing for me. I remember that he sent me a video when he was trying to get a spot in junior hockey. He has always worked so hard at trying to get an opportunity.”
For Moore, getting the opportunity to play early in his career at Montgomery High helped build his confidence.
“The highlight was winning Jim Dowd Cup, Southern White Division, as freshman,” said Moore, reflecting on his MHS career.
“I became a starter halfway through the season. Montgomery had no tradition of winning at that point. No one expected us to win; it was a big Cinderella run.”
Realizing that he needed more seasoning in order to play at the college level, Moore headed to The Williston Northampton School in western Massachusetts.
“I got a lot out of it, more than I expected,” said Moore, who played two years at Williston and was the MVP of the hockey team in his junior year.
“It was great how much the teachers cared about you. From a hockey standpoint, I was playing against guys who were stars of their high school. I was on my own for the first time, a year earlier than my peers. I felt like I had a head start.”
After graduating from Williston, Moore hooked on with the Phoenix Polar Bears of the WSHL, a Junior A Tier III hockey league.
“I went to five or six junior league tryouts: I was coming back from last tryout in Chicago with my dad and he said we are running out of cash for more tryouts and that it might be time to be looking for colleges,” said Moore.
“I convinced him to let me go to one more tryout. I had done the east so I went out to Phoenix. I killed the tryout; I don’t think I let in a goal in two day. I made it so they had to take me. It was a really strong team; it was a great situation.”
Looking for a good college situation, Moore found a spot with UMass in January 2009 when one of the team’s back-up goalies, Matt Gedman, son of former Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman, switched to baseball full-time.
“I got there with no expectations; I was a real walk-on,” said Moore of the program which was headed by former Princeton head coach Don Cahoon.
“They told me I would be on the team for the rest of freshman year and the next year and then we’ll see what happens.”
Not seeing any game action as a freshman or sophomore, Moore found ways to stay sharp.
“I created my own game situations,” said Moore. “If someone was scratched or looking for more playing time, I would have them come in and work on stuff and I would see a ton of pucks.”
In his junior year, Moore did see some ice time when he got into an exhibition game against the Under-20 Swedish National team and a late season game against Merrimack.
“Getting into the Merrimack game was a thrill; I felt I had made it,” said Moore.
“I had achieved my goal of playing D-1 hockey; I had been going through a lot of downs over the past few years. We were down 11-2 when I got in so I couldn’t smile like I wanted on the way home. I was telling my friends I was now statistically relevant.”
Coming into his senior year, Moore thought he was going to pile up some more stats but was disappointed to learn that the coaches had something else in mind for him.
“My confidence was high; I thought I was going to see time,” said Moore. “The two freshmen goalies had been hurt leading up to the first game. I ended up having a meeting with the coaches. They told me they wanted me to be a mentor to the two freshmen and sophomore goalies and help coach them when the goalie coach wasn’t there. They had predetermined my role based on recruiting the kids and the fact that they had scholarships.”
Characteristically, Moore decided to make the most of his role. “I could have folded and enjoyed my senior year,” said Moore, who was named as an “executive officer” by Cahoon to help the team’s captains.
“Instead, I made a commitment to be ready in case we had injuries. I was the first one on the ice and the last one off. I was a rink rat; I would be doing extra stretching or conditioning when teammates were at home doing video games.”
As Moore looks to catch on in the pro ranks, he will be bringing the sense of commitment he displayed during his UMass career.
“The biggest thing is to never give up; I never gave up or threw in the towel,” said Moore, a journalism major who earned Hockey East All-Academic honors during his years with the Minutemen.
“I had a goal to be D-1 goalie and I gave everything to that goal. I may not have been a starter but I was the hardest worker in college hockey the last four years. You can achieve something good even if you don’t get the ultimate goal.”