John Moore reflects on journey from North Shore youth league to Stanley Cup spotlight

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WINNETKA — Wearing the illustrious sweater of the New York Rangers, Winnetka native John Moore had a surreal moment as his skates first made contact with the ice at Staples Center in Los Angeles for Game 2 of this year’s Stanley Cup finals.

“I almost pinch myself that I’m out there,” the Rangers defenseman recounted. “I’m so used to watching the playoffs on TV growing up, so when I’m there, I have to stop and say to myself, ‘OK, I’m in the Stanley Cup finals now.’”

Moore’s hockey journey began as a 4-year-old on the North Shore. His father, John Moore Sr. introduced him to ice skating at Watts Ice Center in Glencoe.

“We’d hold the kids and glide on the ice to introduce them to the concept,” John Moore Sr. said. “John took to it quickly and he really, really enjoyed it.”

After playing youth hockey for several years in Winnetka Park District house and travel leagues, John Moore advanced to the AAA level with the Chicago Young Americans and then the Chicago Mission.

But at that stage John Moore, who now is listed at 6-foot-3 and 202 pounds, struggled as an undersized defenseman.

“John was always one of the smallest kids on the ice,” John Moore Sr. said. “He certainly wasn’t one of the kids that they’d build teams around, but he was always a good skater and responded well to coaching.”

In 2007, during his junior year at New Trier, John Moore joined the United States Hockey League’s Chicago Steel, coached by former Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Steve Poapst.

“That year, while I really liked the way he skated and handled the puck, he was the seventh or eighth defenseman on our team,” Poapst said. “We lost one player that year which opened up a spot for Johnny. But he needed to work on his game; he was still growing.”

John Moore was growing in more ways than one. He said he grew five or six inches between his junior and senior years of high school and gained 20 pounds.

“Before then, I was the smallest guy on the ice, so I’d have to rely more on my skills and smarts,” John Moore said. “Now, for the first time, I could physically do the things I wanted to do.”

In 2008-09 with the Steel, a year in which he was selected as team captain, John Moore made the most of his new frame, tallying 14 goals and 25 assists while earning the league’s Defenseman of the Year honor.

The Columbus Blue Jackets selected John Moore with the 21st pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

“I went on a walk with my parents that morning and thought about how crazy it was that by the end of the night I would know about my future,” John Moore said. “And when my name finally got called, I thought to myself, ‘I made it.’ ”

Before realizing that dream, John Moore opted to further develop his game by playing the 2009-10 season with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League, who also had drafted him earlier that year. The following season, Columbus assigned him to the team’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Springfield Falcons, for which he played 47 games before making his NHL debut Feb. 5, 2011.

“When you’re an 18-year-old kid drafted in the first round, your imagination runs wild,” he said. “I was sitting there and I felt like I was ready and, for one reason or another, I wasn’t getting the opportunity. It was frustrating at the time, but [playing in the AHL] was something I needed. I learned so much about myself and how to deal with setbacks.”

John Moore started the 2011-12 season in Springfield, but after five games he returned to Columbus. In his second game back with the Blue Jackets, John Moore notched his first NHL goal against the Detroit Red Wings.

“When I saw all four guys turn around and look at me with smiles on their faces, it was one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever felt,” John Moore said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’d been shooting pucks in my driveway imagining my first NHL goal, so to finally get it was awesome. Also, as a Blackhawks fan growing up, scoring against Detroit added some gratification.”

The Columbus Blue Jackets’ John Moore during a pregame skate at the United Center on Feb. 18, 2011

Photos taken by Scott Stewart/Sun-Times

On April 3, 2013, John Moore was traded to New York along with teammate Derick Brassard. They were both at Brassard’s home after a practice when they found out.

“[Brassard’s] phone starts ringing. He picks it up and tells me he’s going to the Rangers,” John Moore said. “Then my phone rings and it’s [Rangers General Manager] Glen Sather. He says, ‘We’re happy to have you, but we have a game tonight so pack up everything and get on a plane.’ ”

Hours after getting off that plane, John Moore scored a third-period goal in a 6-1 drubbing of the Pittsburgh Penguins in New York. Assisting on the play was none other than Brassard, who also scored that night.

“Even with the really hard practice we had in Columbus that day, the travel, and the shock and emotion of getting traded, we had a really good night,” Brassard said. “Getting traded to an Original Six team in New York, a really good team, John and I were excited.”

John Moore’s playoffs experience this season was blemished by an incident during Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. John Moore was ejected and suspended two additional games for elbowing Montreal’s Dale Weise.

“It’s unfortunate that Dale Weise got hurt on that play, but that certainly wasn’t my intent,” John Moore said. “For me to take a 5-minute major and elbow a guy in the head certainly isn’t who I am. If I could do it over again, I probably wouldn’t have finished my hit.”

After losing the Stanley Cup finals to the Los Angeles Kings, John Moore reflected on the anguish he felt but noted his newfound hunger to lift the Cup for the first time.

“It still stings,” he said. “Going into the locker room, I just remember sitting there and staring. But being that close and seeing it makes me want it that much more. And I’ve never wanted it more than I do now.”

As he looks toward his future, John Moore also stays connected to his past by sponsoring a team named “John’s Rangers” in his hometown Winnetka Pee Wee House League. He remains humbled by his path from that league to the pinnacle of the sport.

“Leaving a place like Madison Square Garden and reflecting on everything,” John Moore said, “it’s amazing to think that a dream that started in suburban Chicago has culminated in something like this.”

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