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Joe Henderson Columns

By doing little things, Moore is Bolts' X factor

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Published:   |   Updated: March 20, 2013 at 10:52 PM
TAMPA -

Dominic Moore may seem anonymous at times, but don't mistake that for ordinary. It's just that third-line centers, even on good hockey teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning, don't usually get the star treatment.

But that's OK.

This is the part of the column where we're supposed to put some sort of label on our subject, but darned if I can find one that covers him completely. He is pleasant, thoughtful, but kind of quiet. That's particularly true when you're trying to get him to talk about himself.

On the ice, you could call him a grinder, I guess, but he has been a lot more than that during this increasingly magical season for the Bolts.

"He's in-between in the sense that he's not a top-two line guy because you need a certain skill level. He's not a real fourth-line guy there where he's just grinding it out, so he's right in between," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said.

"He can hurt you both ways. He can step it up defensively, he can step it up offensively. Guys like him are the x-factor."

X-factor … that gets us closer to the essence of Dominic Moore. It's what you might expect of someone schooled at Harvard after growing up in the Toronto suburb of Thornill. Actually, he is one of three brothers who earned degrees and played for the Crimson.

"The best thing about it is the people you meet there. They're from all walks of life and they're all excellent at something," he said. "There are a lot of athletes there but there are also people who excel at the things they do. It's great to meet those people who are literally at the top of their game."

He studied sociology, not because he wanted to be a sociologist. It just seemed interesting.

"He is pretty inquisitive," said his mother, Anna. "He is capable in a lot of areas. He is interested in the arts but he's interested in science as well."

Toss in one brother who studied mathematics and the other who majored in environmental science and, as his father, Jack, noted, "We have some interesting discussions around the dinner table."

Dominic is the only one still playing.

There is a story behind that.

Mark, the oldest brother, was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins but never got to play in the National Hockey League. A hard hit in practice left him with a concussion that never healed sufficiently.

"He tries to overcome it," Anna said, "but he hasn't been successful."

Mark turned to other pursuits. He has written two books, including a primer on what he believes is needed to save the NHL.

Steve, the middle brother, was the victim of a notorious attack during a game in 2004 by then-Vancouver winger Todd Bertuzzi. Steve was assaulted from behind, his head driven onto the ice. He suffered multiple injuries, including a broken neck and a severe concussion, and never played again. That was more than seven years ago and he still struggles.

"He couldn't imagine doing anything but hockey but he has finally come to grips in the last couple of years that playing again wasn't going to happen," Anna said.

Then again, this family is pretty tough stock. Jack won an over-50 Canadian tennis national championship, and then there's the strength of Anna.

She competed in triathlons back in the day, but that ended when doctors discovered a tumor behind her right eye. It wasn't malignant, thank goodness, but the surgery to remove it left her with paralysis on her right side. It didn't keep her down.

She swims daily. She uses a walker to move around.

What does any of this have to do with a third-line center for the Lightning? Well, it helps to know the ingredients that make up the finished product. Moore's line, which includes Sean Bergenheim and Steve Downie, was the difference in playoff series wins over Pittsburgh and Washington. His behind-the-back passes that set up two Bergenheim goals will live as long as YouTube exists.

Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman had that in mind last summer when he signed Moore to a two-year contract. He has been a bit of a vagabond, playing with eight teams since breaking into the NHL in 2003 with the New York Rangers. The Lightning are his fifth team since 2007.

Boucher, and assistant GM Julien BriseBois saw Moore up close last season when he played with Montreal. They knew he could win face-offs and help with the penalty kill. He could score a little and even be part of the power play. In other words, he could be the x-factor.

"The stronger you are at the end of your roster, the better you'll be. You're going to need them," Yzerman said. "That's how you advance."

"It's not just playoffs. During the regular season he liked pressure moments – big games, big goals," Boucher added. "He's not afraid of challenge. He wants it. To him, it's not a threat, it's a challenge."

Here's a challenge. Last season, when Montreal lost the conference final to Philadelphia, was the closest Moore has gotten to Lord Stanley's cup. With the Bolts in the same position now against Boston, it's time to finish the job.

"Getting that close and not making the ultimate goal is a huge motivation. Playoff hockey is when it's fun," he said. "Literally the minute that final buzzer went off (against Philly), you're looking forward to the next chance you get. You want to be ready for that."

Well, that next chance is here now. There's no telling how this will go, but in looking for factors to tip the outcome you pay attention to the small things. The anonymous things. The extraordinary x-factors. You look for those things and you keep seeing men like Dominic Moore.

It's not a label. It's just who he happens to be.

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