TORONTO – If you’re going to score your first National Hockey League goal, you might as well do it the Trevor Moore way.
Don’t get tangled near the blue paint and let a slapper from the point bounce off your posterior or slip one into an empty net in garbage time.
Gather the puck and a surge of speed deep in your own zone, charge down the right wing like your whole career is a tryout, blow by a defenceman (Derrick Pouliot) like you own an E-Z Pass, and snipe five-hole on one of the hottest goaltenders in the league.
Then allow your undrafted self to be bombarded by a standing ovation 19,388 strong and the instant recognition that comes from a Hockey Night in Canada prime-time highlight (with a “Coach’s Corner” boost, to boot). Oh, and please act like you’ve been there when they splash your face on the Jumbotron.
“I was just trying to focus on my next shift at that point. I didn’t want to get too high with it. It was pretty tough to keep a straight face,” Moore grinned post-win, trying to explain what it all feels like.
“I don’t really know, honestly. The light just went on and it was surreal. Your whole life you work to that point, right? Pretty cool.
“I thought one might just hit me in the butt at some point if I was ever going to score.”
The wonderful week of Trevor Moore has served as both a reminder of his excellent recent past and, especially on this night, a tantalizing preview of what his future may hold.
On Thursday the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ rookie call-up was invited to the American Hockey League’s all-star game in acknowledgement of the 17 goals he potted in just 27 contests for the farm club, and on Saturday he contributed to the big club’s 5-0 cruise over the Vancouver Canucks.
“I didn’t know he was that fast. His speed has really stood out to me. I think every single game he gets more and more confident as he goes. His goal tonight was unbelievable,” Auston Matthews said. “Every game he’s gotten better and better, and I think everyone’s took notice how dangerous of a player he is.”
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) January 6, 2019
Five feet, 10 inches of forecheck, backcheck and determination, Moore has exhibited the type of dogged will that impresses an old-school hockey man like Mike Babcock, who believes ice time is for the earning.
Moore’s big-league look on the Leafs’ sparingly used fourth line — five games, three points and counting — has been afforded to him by ankle injuries to both Tyler Ennis and Zach Hyman and the trade of depth winger Josh Leivo (injured as well) to these Canucks.
Hyman is back skating by himself and says he’s ready to return as soon as the medical staff gives him a thumbs-up. Ennis suffered a fracture on Dec. 22 and will be sidelined much longer.
“The way I look at it is, by having people out, it’s an opportunity for other people. Whether it ends up helping the team right away, it should help the individual,” Babcock philosophized.
“You can be really good in the American League and never play, right? There’s some guys that are going to find their niche and find their way. We have a bunch of kids down there now that we monitor very closely. We’re fortunate, we go to the games or watch them on TV. We get to see a lot of them.
“It’s going to be hard to make our team — we’ll add other guys as well — so it’s going to be a tough roster to make, but we encourage the competition.”
As the coach is swift to remind, it was a lapse in competitive spirit, at least over a 60-minute span, that led to consecutive defeats to the Islanders and Wild and the sixth instance of back-to-back losses in this impressive Leafs campaign.
But, once again, they prevented that slump from stretching to three games.
“The really good teams, they’re able to snap out of it quick,” Matthews said. “That stat proves we’re going in the right direction.”
In eight days, goaltender Michael Hutchinson has gone from “grinding away” in Springfield with a losing record for the Thunderbirds to posting a calm, 28-save shutout for his boyhood team. Before he could peel off his Panthers-coloured pads, Hutchinson was congratulated at his locker by both Frederik Andersen and Garret Sparks.
“Playing street hockey, you always think about it,” said the Barrie, Ont., native. “The guys made it about as easy as it comes. We did a great job blocking shots, letting me have time to cover rebounds whenever they were around. We backchecked really hard tonight and took away a couple of scoring chances they had just by backchecking and breaking up plays.”
Of course, it helped that Vancouver was down its most dangerous weapon and top centreman, rookie of the year favourite Elias Pettersson, and was wrapping up its third six-game road trip of the season, this one forced by hosting the world junior tournament back home.
The Canucks — “a blue-collar team,” coach Travis Green said proudly, realistically, prior to puck drop — battled, but their elite finishers simply aren’t as plentiful.
John Tavares opened the scoring by parking in front of gaolie Jacob Markstrom, reaching across his body and deftly tipping a Morgan Rielly wrister with the inside of his shaft. That’s already his 27th as a Leaf.
Auston Matthews secured a $212,500 salary bonus when he punched home his 20th in the third frame, removing any doubt about the outcome, then set up both Andreas Johnsson and Igor Ozhiganov for giggles.
But those all-stars score with such frequency, they may forget this one.
Moore? Not a chance.
A native of Thousand Oaks, Calif., Moore starred at the University of Denver for three winters and skated two and a half more in the AHL before his persistence and someone else’s bad luck conspired for a dream come true and taped-up, Sharpied-up NHL puck that Rielly dug out of the back of the net and is now headed straight to his parents’ new home.
They just put in a game room. It’ll brighten up the place.
Moore said he “got chills” thinking back three summers ago, to his first Leafs development camp in Niagara Falls, Ont., and how it was then that the organization decided to take a flyer on this undersized, zero-hyped prospect with a future you couldn’t predict and a motor you can’t teach.
“He’s going to be an NHLer, for sure,” Babcock said on Saturday. “It’s just how soon do you want him to play eight minutes? That’s the beauty of not getting kids here too soon is, you want them to score. The more he scores [in the AHL], the more likely he’s going to score at the NHL level.
“If we can get healthy, he can go down, score a lot and become a scorer rather than a checker.”