Bryan Moore left home when he was 14 because he was pursuing a goal he knew he couldn’t reach in Matthews.
The hockey competition in Charlotte is improving, but doesn’t yet provide the kind of preparation necessary to get where Moore wants to go – the National Hockey League.
So with the reluctant approval of his parents, Moore left.
He lived in four cities in four years with four host families. He went to three public high schools and spent a year being homeschooled. He was away from family and friends and didn’t go to his prom or graduation.
He suffered through injury and homesickness.
But now, at 18, his NHL goal is within sight. He’s playing for the Sarnia Sting, which twice in the past five years has produced the NHL’s top overall draft pick. The Ontario Hockey League, which the Sting is a part of, produced 11 first-round picks in the 2012 NHL draft.
“For that age, it’s the best league in the world,” said Dusty Jamieson, a former Charlotte Checkers player who is from Ontario and played for the Sting. “You realize quickly there’s probably 20 NHL scouts at every game. You’re right there.
“If you work hard, you’ll get a chance.”
Moore is eligible for June’s NHL draft, but he’s not ranked in the latest NHL Central Scouting list of North American Players. He expects to play at least two more years in the OHL, to keep improving and attract attention from NHL teams.
Moore started playing hockey when he was 5. He suited up for the Junior Checkers at Pineville Ice House, where his father, Eric, worked.
For four years, he was also a stick boy for the Charlotte Checkers, then in the ECHL.
“Hanging out with all the guys made me want to be in their situation,” Moore said. “I looked up to them. They were a big deal to me.”
Those players included Jamieson, who lives in Cornelius and played with the Checkers from 2002-08.
“(Moore) was always around the rink,” said Jamieson, 31. “He was just like one of us guys that were playing for the Checkers. You could see the love of the game in him.”
Moore continued to improve, eventually playing in showcase tournaments and camps in Canada and New York in front of professional scouts. Often, he traveled alone.
The experiences showed Moore that he needed better competition if he wanted to be a pro. To play professional hockey, he knew he would have to leave Matthews.
When Moore caught the attention of the coach of a club team in Detroit and was invited to join, he knew what he had to do.
“He had to leave this area to get more competition and learn more,” his father, Eric, said. “Yes, he was young to make a decision, but his heart was into it. His heart is into hockey and he loves what he does.”
Moore’s mother, Chris, went to Detroit with him for his first week of camp in August 2008. She remembers watching Moore as a 5-foot-8, 160-pound, green-eyed and freckled teenager, trying to fit in with his new teammates.
After the first practice, Moore told his mother he didn’t want to stay. She encouraged him to stick with it for a week, and if he didn’t like it by then he could come home.
“I wasn’t going to let him stay there if he didn’t want to,” she said.
Six days later, while Moore was practicing, she left with only a quick goodbye.
“I think I was just too sad,” she said. “I would have been hysterical.”
She held it together while another parent drove her to the airport. Inside, she sat down and cried.
Bryan stayed in Detroit, living with a host family whose son also played for the team. He knew the experience was good for him. But he missed his parents, his brothers and his friends.
Around Thanksgiving, Moore’s father and older brother, Tyler, drove to Detroit to see Moore play.
When the tournament was over, Moore packed up and rode back home with them.
The homesickness was just too much.
“I wasn’t excited to leave my family because I was still young,” Moore said. “I went there and was trying to have a good time and it didn’t feel right to me.”
The team would go on to win a national championship.
Jamieson knows what Moore faced. He left home to play hockey too, when he was 16. He remembers being homesick.
“You do it because you love it,” Jamieson said.
Because Moore loves it too, he decided to try again.
“You can’t give up after the first try,” Moore said. “You’ve got to keep going at it.”
Moore stayed closer to home the next year, becoming the second-leading scorer on the Junior Hurricanes in Raleigh. He lived with the family of a teammate on a small farm outside of Greensboro and was homeschooled. He could come home on weekends.
Being away from family and friends got easier. In 2010, he was ready to take another step.
Moore was drafted by two teams, the U.S. Hockey League’s Sioux Falls (S.D.) Stampede, and the more advanced Sarnia Sting. He chose Sioux Falls, where he could still attend school.
He went to the local high school, attending class for four hours before practice.
His defense improved with the Stampede. He learned the intricacies of a team’s system and how to listen to his coach.
But he also faced his first major injury.
During a game in his second year in Sioux Falls, Moore injured his knee in a scrum in the corner of the rink. He fell awkwardly and popped his left knee out of its socket, tore his meniscus and sprained his MCL. He was out for more than a month.
“It wasn’t that bad for me because I always had someone there to help me out,” Moore said.
He focused on school to keep his mind off the injury. He spent time with his friends to ward off homesickness. And when he was healthy, he didn’t hesitate to get back on the ice.
“I always told myself I wanted to go to the next level,” he said, “so you have to just do a lot of rehab and go back out there.”
On the verge
After two years in Sioux Falls, Bryan moved on to play against better competition in Sarnia, where hockey is a full-time job.
He plays in a 5,000-seat arena in a city of nearly 80,000 on the southern tip of Lake Huron, about 65 miles northeast of Detroit on the Canadian border.
He’s one of five American players on the team and the only one from below New Jersey. His teammates used to make fun of his accent, but now a Canadian inflection sneaks into his conversations.
At 5-foot-11, 199 pounds, Moore is a fast, physical left-handed winger. In 58 games, Moore has nine goals and 18 assists (27 points). He scored the game-winning goal in a 4-2 victory over the Oshawa Generals Feb. 16.
Moore lives with a host family and earns about $60 a week, and he’s playing with top players such as Sting center Alex Galchenyuk, who was drafted No. 3 overall by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2012 NHL draft.
“It’s good having (Galchenyuk) around, watching what he does, learning off of him since he’s a really good player,” said Moore.
Jamieson watched one of Moore’s first games with the Sting this season.
“They’re very pleased with him,” said Jamieson of the Sting organization. “They like the way he plays. ... He skates well and he’s pretty smart. I think he’ll do well.”
If hockey doesn’t work out, the Sting will also pay for him to go to college in North Carolina.
He knows the odds – the website QuantHockey.com shows only three players born in North Carolina have played in the NHL – but Moore says he can’t think that way. He knows he is close.
“It’s been my goal since I was a kid,” Moore said. “It will probably be the best feeling for me.”
Junior hockey in Charlotte is improving.
The Junior Checkers recently fielded their first Class AAA team, the highest level of junior hockey in the U.S. And Jamieson thinks Moore can be an inspiration.
“When you’ve got a guy you can look up to as a kid, that’s huge and it’s going to bring more people to the game,” Jamieson said.
Eventually, players with NHL dreams might be able to stay closer to home. But for now, the best hockey is still played in places such as Sarnia.
That means Moore’s parents see him mostly by watching games online. Moore spends a few months home in the offseason, plus a few weeks around Christmas.
The distance has been hard, but they would do it all over again.
“I wouldn’t change it because it’s really his dream,” his mother, Chris, said. “He was just so set on it. He was going to make it.”
In January, Eric Moore went to Sarnia for a game and saw his son score a goal. Afterward, in the locker room, a dozen kids were asking his son for autographs.
That’s when he knew the sacrifices were worth it.
“I had tears in my eye,” Eric Moore said. “That was the moment.”