By Bob Crawford
Among the three most recent additions to the Whale roster, two, forward Andrew Yogan and defenseman Peter Ceresnak, were both Ranger draft picks and had been on the organization’s radar screen for at least a year. The other, winger Steve Moses, though, was somewhat of an unknown commodity when he joined the Whale last week.
Early reviews are quite positive, however, for Moses, a Leominster, MA native who suited up for his first two pro games this past Saturday against Providence and Sunday at Bridgeport, after finishing a four-year career at the University of New Hampshire.
“I think he’s done a good job,” Whale head coach Ken Gernander said of Moses after Tuesday’s Whale practice. “He’s a decent skater, he can get moving pretty good, he’s got some offensive skill. The other night (in Bridgeport) he had five shots on goal, and I think he’s going to get more and more comfortable as things go along here.
“He’s a guy that looks to make a difference, he’s not feeling his way around getting the lay of the land. He jumped right in, pretty tenacious guy. I thought he had a good weekend.”
Moses did not have any points or penalty minutes in the two games, but did put seven total shots on net, after a Hockey East season in which he was by far and away the UNH leader in goals-scored (22) and tied for the Wildcats’ team lead in points, with 35 in 37 games.
“I think it’s gone pretty well,” Moses said Tuesday of his first professional action. “I’ve had a lot of fun, been able to contribute some shots on net and definitely played more than I would have expected. So it’s been a lot of fun, and I thank the teammates and the coaches for throwing me in and having some confidence in me.”
Even though the other jersey was the spoked P not the spoked B, it made for a great feeling for the Massachusetts-bred Moses for his first professional game to be against the Providence affiliate of the Stanley Cup-champion Bruins.
“That was pretty cool,” he said. “I had just got here Thursday and worked out with the trainers Friday, so I didn’t know I was going to be playing until just before the game. So it was pretty exciting, kind of a whirlwind weekend. But certainly playing against Providence made it even more special, being the affiliate of the B’s. It was a great experience, and I thank everyone in the organization for the opportunity.”
As for what the Whale coaching staff stressed to their newest player prior to his insertion into the lineup, Moses said, “They just try to tell me to keep it simple and do what I can do to help out the team. We’ve just kind of gone over systems and how they want to play the game here, kind of just learning by doing right now and trying to get better every day.
“It’s not a whole lot different (than college), it’s a pretty simple game. The games in the AHL are a little bit more structured, I think. College guys are running around a little bit more, but the pros, it’s a little bit more of a simple game. It’s been a little bit of an adjustment, but I feel like I’m getting a little more accustomed to it.”
Gernander’s take on Moses’ transition from the college game is, “I think he’s acquitted himself well. I think he was probably recognized because of his speed and his offensive play, and you could see that that was evident in his game. So the things that make him stand out he brought to the table this weekend. There’ll be little things that pertain to the pro game that he’ll have to pick up or learn, but I think he’s a willing, energetic and receptive kid and it’ll come around pretty quickly for him.”
Moses had more than twice as many goals as the next highest-scoring Wildcat player this season, so he had to be thinking offense most of the time. He understands, though, that in the AHL he will have to think more in terms of an all-around game.
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“As you move up, you’ve got to fine-tune all the parts of your game,” Moses said. “I certainly still want to be an offensive contributor here, and get pucks to the net, and try to score some goals at this level as well.”
In both of his first two Whale appearances, Moses has played on a line with Yogan, another youngster who is hoping to make a good early impression on the organization. Although it’s kind of a “Mutt and Jeff”-type situation, with Moses being a lithe waterbug of a winger at 5-9 and 170 pounds and Yogan a big, 6-3, 203-pound centerman, Moses said he has already felt some chemistry with his new Major Junior-developed linemate.
“He’s a great player, and he’s going to be a great player in this organization for a long time,” Moses said of Yogan. “So it’s been nice to get some shifts with him. He’s a big center and opens up some space for me, and it’s definitely been good.”
The other forward on the line with Moses and Yogan Sunday was Casey Wellman, who has already managed 21 goals and 41 points in 48 games this year between the Whale and the Houston Aeros.
“I think we played pretty well as a group,” Moses said. “I think the team had 40-something shots on net (Sunday), their goalie played really well. Hopefully in the upcoming weekend we can finish some more of our chances. I know myself and some other guys definitely had some chances we could have buried, and maybe if we did that the outcome would have been different, but overall I think it was a pretty good 60-minute effort for the boys.”
As an undrafted college free agent, Moses had no obligation or connection to any particular pro team. The opportunity with the Ranger organization, however, did not come right out of the blue.
“They’d (the Rangers) just been in touch with me throughout the season,” he said, “and my agents and I felt like this was a great opportunity to come here, and I think they liked me as a player and were going to give me a good opportunity. So it was a good situation, and I’m glad that I made the decision to come here for an ATO.”
The situation for the Whale does seem like a good one for Moses, particularly in that the Whale’s forward depth has been somewhat in a state of flux all season, and took a hit recently when Mats Zuccarello was recalled by the Rangers and then suffered a broken wrist.
“We’re going to need to get more scoring,” Gernander said, “whether you want to call it secondary scoring, or from an unexpected source like this that can come out of college and maybe get us a goal here or there. So anybody that can generate offense for us is going to get opportunity, and the other side of the coin, as long as you’re not a liability defensively there’s going to be room for you.”
Regardless of what happens with his pro career, Moses is grateful for what was an excellent college hockey experience in the Granite State.
“That (his UNH career) was the best four years of my life,” he said. “(Head) Coach (Dick) Umile and the UNH coaching staff does an awesome job every year bringing in players, and the fans, and the community of UNH, loves hockey. It’s packed in that building (the Whittemore Center) every night and they really treat us well, and I’ve really got to thank the UNH community. It was just an awesome time, and college hockey is really a great experience, to play in Hockey East.”
The fact that the Wildcats are the biggest thing in town in the University’s home in Durham, NH creates a positive pressure to perform, according to Moses.
“By senior year I was really expected to lead the guys in the offensive department,” he said, “and it was kind of a pressure that I had come to enjoy and a role that I like to be in.
And though he has left Durham for now to begin a pro career, Moses’ studies remain important to him, as they have been throughout a college tenure that has seen him twice earn Hockey East All-Academic Team honors.
“My teachers and professors have been pretty helpful with me leaving school and being able to send some work and trying to finish up my degree here in the last couple months of my senior year,” Moses said. “So they’ve definitely been supportive in me leaving school to pursue my career as a hockey player, but certainly it’s important that I try to get my degree as well.”
Moses’ relatively diminutive size certainly played a role in his never being drafted, but it certainly did not impede his Hockey East production, as Moses finished his Wildcat career with 85 points in 115 games his last three years, after a 13-point freshman campaign. He does not see it as a big obstacle in the pro ranks either.
“With the new rule changes and the elimination of a lot of the clutching and grabbing and the obstruction,” Moses said, “guys that can move their feet and skate well certainly have a bit of an advantage, and that’s something that I try to pride myself on, and certainly try not to let size get in the way of me striving to reach my goals and dreams.”
Those goals and dreams began when Moses was a young tyke in Leominster, which is within shouting distance of Worcester, home of the AHL’s Sharks and a league stronghold since the 1994-95 season.
“It was the IceCats (playing at Worcester’s DCU Center) when I was a kid, and I went to a bunch of games when I was a young kid,” Moses said. “And then as I got into playing hockey, my weekends were taken up by my own games, so I couldn’t go quite as much, but certainly was a fan of the American Hockey League growing up, and it’s pretty cool to be playing in the league now.”
BELL FIRING THE BISCUIT
Whale veteran defenseman Brendan Bell had ten shots on goal in Sunday’s 4-3 overtime loss in Bridgeport, which was decided by Sound Tiger blueliner Matt Donovan’s power-play goal with two seconds remaining in the OT session. Those ten shots were a pro career high for Bell, who had one assist in the game, and two more than any Whale player had put on net in a single game this season. The Whale as a team equaled a season high with their 45 shots in Sunday’s contest, and interestingly, the other two previous times that Connecticut had put 45 shots on net in a game, the October 15th home opener and November 18, were both also against the Sound Tigers….Bell’s fellow veteran, and fellow former Toronto Maple Leaf and Marlie, Kris Newbury also reached a personal milestone over the weekend. Newbury’s late-game power-play goal in Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Bruins was his pro career-high 23rd of the season, surpassing the 22 he scored with the Marlies in 2005-06.
The Whale play three games in three days at home this weekend, hosting Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Friday night (7:00 PM faceoff), Adirondack Saturday night (7:00) and Providence Sunday afternoon. Faceoff for that Sunday game has been moved up to 2:00, to accommodate an arena concert changeover at the XL Center. Friday’s game features a special meal combo deal that is available at all Friday home games for the rest of the regular season, as a hot dog and a 12-ounce soda costs only $5. Saturday, meanwhile, will feature a game-worn jersey auction to benefit the March of Dimes. Green game-worn jerseys of Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, Lee Baldwin, Bell, Francois Bouchard, Tim Erixon, Chad Johnson, Jared Nightingale, Wade Redden, Andre Deveaux, Tommy Grant, Sam Klassen, Chris McKelvie, Newbury, Jordan Owens, Blake Parlett, Cam Talbot, Scott Tanski, Kelsey Tessier, Andreas Thuresson, Pavel Valentenko and Aaron Voros will be up for bids….This is the second time in three weeks that the Whale has played “three in three” at home. Prior to this year, that had been done only twice in the franchise’s first 14 seasons of existence….Erixon, who has missed the Whale’s last five games while on recall to the parent New York Rangers, was a healthy scratch in the Blueshirts’ 3-2 win at Minnesota last night. Ranger head coach John Tortorella, though, told the New York media that was not because he was unhappy with Erixon’s play, but because he wanted to get Anton Stralman, scratched the previous five games, out of the press box. Stralman played 19:45 last night, and Erixon has averaged 13:00 in the 18 games he has played in a Ranger uniform this year.