If there’s anything constant about player movement in the ECHL, it’s change. Players get called up to the NHL and AHL, leave for hockey in other countries, retire, get released, or traded to another ECHL team. So if a player is lucky enough to play with one or two ECHL teams for the duration of his career, well, then, he’s lucky enough. This was the case for Elmira Jackals forward Nathan Moon. That is, until this season.
After five successful seasons playing for the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL, the Belleville, Ontario native started his professional hockey career with the AHL’s Worcester Sharks during the 2011-12 season. The next four seasons saw brief stints in the AHL and EIHL, but Moon mostly played in the ECHL. Out of the 222 ECHL games he played in from 2012-2016, all but two were in a Colorado Eagles or Evansville IceMen sweater. The exception was two games played with the Cincinnati Cyclones at the start of 2012-13.
Though he hailed from north of the border, Moon became familiar with Evansville, Indiana very quickly, spending most of the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons there.
“At first, I didn’t really know much, to tell you the truth, about Evansville. I didn’t even know they had a hockey team. But I got there, and I met my wife Hadley there, and that’s where we live in the summers now. I love it there. It’s a little small town, like I was used to from my home town. The fans are unbelievable there,” Moon recalls.
But after two seasons mostly in Evansville, Moon was prepared for a change. “I had been in Evansville a little while and I wanted to…try out something else in the League. So I decided anyway to sign with Evansville and then after the first game I asked… ‘If it’s possible, can I get traded?’ And then I got traded to Colorado and it was a great spot for my wife and me to be and they have a great organization.”
Moon already had some familiarity with the Colorado organization, having been selected to represent the IceMen in the 2013 ECHL All-Star Classic, which was hosted by the Eagles. “I loved it there the two-three days I was there (for the All-Star Classic) – and then the trade happened and I ended up there and we made the playoffs, it was a good year.”
The forward started the 2015-16 season with the Eagles but after three games, was traded back to the IceMen.
“In the summer I talked to Coach Stewie (Chris Stewart of the Colorado Eagles) and Al Sims (coach of the Evansville IceMen) and Al expressed that he would like to bring me back to Evansville. My wife and I were getting married in the summer so I thought it was easier for her to plan the wedding if we were in Evansville. So I asked Coach Stewart if he could trade me back to Evansville, and we talked about it….and he said he would grant my wish. It was pretty cool to go back to Evansville since that was there I wanted to go back to. It was good of them (the Eagles) and I always thank him (Stewart) for making that happen for me.”
“I got to move back to my house and live in the town that I live in for the summer, so…it was kind of a homecoming.”
Moon took extra efforts to get himself involved in the community that was now his second home. The community and team recognized his efforts, as he was nominated by the IceMen for the 2015-16 ECHL Community Service Award.
“We did a lot of little things in the community you know. We did a program called ‘No More Bullies’ in the schools…we did a lot of reading and gym times in schools…we’d bring schools to the games. I enjoyed it. You want to give back to the community the support that they have given to you during the games.”
Unfortunately for Moon, the IceMen announced their plans to cease operations as an ECHL team at the end of the 2015-16 season.
“The reason I was coming back to Evansville was to hopefully play a few more seasons there and hopefully just retire there when I decided to. I knew I was becoming a veteran so I thought if I was in Evansville I’d be secure for probably as long as I wanted to play for. So I was in a tough spot…and this has been a tough year….but it’s made me stronger.”
For a player who had as much of a sense of security as you can in the ECHL, 2016-17 has certainly proved challenging, with Moon playing with five different teams throughout the season. Despite the constant movement and the challenges of adjusting to a new team five different times, Moon is able to see the bigger picture.
“It’s been tough, especially at first, but now I’ve learned to just do my thing and do what I have to do. At the end of the day, I’m playing professional hockey for a living. It’s a fun thing and it’s what I’ve always wanted since I was a little kid – so I just put my skates on and block things out when I’m on the ice and play the game that I know that I can play…I just don’t take any of it for granted anymore.”
With the whirlwind 2016-17 season winding down, Moon finds himself in a familiar position as he was last April. His current team, the Elmira Jackals, will miss the Kelly Cup Playoffs, and has also announced that it will cease operations at the end of the season.
“It’s been a 360 for me, because I was in this situation last year, where we weren’t making playoffs and the team was ceasing operations. So I’ve told the guys, just have fun with it…We’re playing some good teams down the stretch that need these points and we can kind of spoil their year and spoil their place in the standings. You can’t forget who you’re playing against too. Some guys are going to want jobs next year, it’s kind of like tryouts with teams we’re going to play. So it’s just kind of, have a tryout for yourself, but put a good product on the ice and play well for the fans too. They’re not going to have hockey next year so let’s go out with a bang and hopefully win our last few games.”
Moon is hesitant to comment on any concrete plans for the 2017-18 season, instead, he says, he’ll wait to see how things progress over the summer. But for someone in his shoes who can realize, ‘At the end of the day, I’m playing professional hockey for a living,’ – well then, he’s lucky enough.