Steve Zipay is an award-winning journalist who has covered events from Super Bowls to World Series and issues
If the ice wasn't available, John Moore always had a hockey stick in his hand anyway, shooting tennis balls in his driveway in Winnetka, Ill., and idolizing Blackhawks defenseman Chris Chelios.
Moore, now 22, doesn't have the aggressive nature or physical style of Chelios, and is more of a respectful, suburban kid, according to Ed Olczyk, the former player-turned-television analyst, who coached his two sons, as well as Moore, as 15-year-olds.
But as his new Rangers teammates and those who follow the team daily have come to learn, Moore is blessed with something else: superb skating skill, a talent that has brought him through the midget ranks to the USHL, OHL, AHL and now to New York, where he is drawing raves from coach John Tortorella.
Tortorella has called Moore, who was obtained from the Blue Jackets in the Marian Gaborik trade on April 3, "a Mac clone," and he wasn't referring to a personal computer knockoff. He was comparing him to Blueshirts blueliner Ryan McDonagh, whose speed and footwork made the University of Wisconsin defenseman one of the most prized prospects in 2007, when he was drafted 12th overall by Montreal. The coach said that he sometimes mistakes one for the other by the moves and the numbers: Moore wears 17, McDonagh 27.
In his first eight games as a Ranger, Moore has earned increased minutes on the third defensive pair and contributed a goal and two assists.
"We've been fluctuating in the five and six position all year, but he's come in and played real well for us," Tortorella said. "He's still a young guy, but what we're trying to teach him, he's picking up. The way he skates and the area he covers in that position, the onus is on us to teach him about positioning and how we play defense. He's an interesting one."
Henrik Lundqvist, who also compared Moore to McDonagh, said, "It's not easy for a defenseman to switch systems and teams; it's always a little bit easier for a forward. He's stepping up here and we need it."
Moore is thrilled to be living a dream, and in a playoff hunt, which wasn't the case in his time in Columbus. "It's exciting to play when every game means something," he said. "It feels like every single game I'm getting more and more comfortable, and even getting rewarded with some power play time."
Moore also engaged in his first NHL fight on Thursday, in which he easily decisioned Florida's Jack Skille. As Rick Nash, who played with him in Columbus, observed: "They always say you've got to be careful of the quiet ones."