Forward Steve Moses is in his first year of pro hockey with Jokerit in Finland's SM-Liiga. He is currently the second-leading scorer for Jokerit behind veteran Ilari Filppula. Moses played for the AHL's Connecticut Whale at the end of last season after completing his college career at the University of New Hampshire.
Hockey's Future recently caught up with Moses for this interview.
Hockey's Future: I guess the place to start is your making the jump from college hockey to pro hockey in Finland, what's the adjustment been like?
Steve Moses: It's a pretty big step. I played for a couple of months in the American Hockey League after college. I think the game here is very similar to that. The speed is just about the same. I think the guys are a little less physical here but it's still a pretty physical game. The couple of months that I was in Connecticut helped me get mentally prepared for what I was going to be seeing when I got here. I think that helped me get off to a quick start upon arriving here.
HF: Another thing we were wondering, there's a lot of diversity – some seasoned Finnish veterans and also a lot of young guys with your team. What's that experience like?
SM: This year's a little different from some years. There's at least two or three NHL guys on each team. Some of them high-end NHL guys. Some of them not as well known. But every team has picked up a few NHL guys and that's made the level of the league a little bit higher than it typically is. Of course there are some older guys and then a group of younger guys but I don't think that's different than any other league. The AHL is almost all young guys because it's strictly a development league. Whereas most of these leagues in Europe have some guys that are kind of towards the tail end of their careers and then some young kids that will eventually probably head over to play in the NHL. I guess it's not a huge change from regular NHL teams where you have some veterans and some young guys. It's a good mix and a lot of young guys have some pretty great mentors and guys they can look up to.
HF: When we originally contacted you, Finland hadn't had a lot of NHL guys coming over. Now that each team has some players have you heard a lot about the lockout over there?
SM: When I signed here my agents and I knew about this upcoming season, it wasn't a surprise to anybody that there was a lockout. That played a big part in me deciding to come here. It made it an easy decision because I knew it was going to be a tough season in North America and it's proven to be a really great decision for me. There's a lot of great players that are spending the majority of the season in the ECHL and that's something that I wanted to try and avoid. Even with guys that were able to sign NHL contracts a lot of them are spending most of the season if not the whole season in the ECHL. There's nothing wrong with that but it worked out nicely for me because I was able to play at a higher level over here.
HF: On a personal level, you're living in Helsinki which is a big city but once you get out of the city, Finland is a lot like (rural) Massachusetts where you're from. Has that been the case for you? What's it been like living there?
SM: I spend most of the time in the city. It's certainly not like New York City. It's not a huge city but it's a pretty big city. It's been nice getting used to that. Once you get out of the city it's probably more rural than central Massachusetts. But again I don't spend so much time there. We are on the road a lot of times and the travel is so easy. A lot of the road games we'll either fly out the day of the game and then fly right back or if it's short enough we'll bus and then bus right back. There's maybe a couple of nights a month that we're spending time in hotels. That's another benefit. You're not spending too, too much time traveling. You can really focus on playing, practicing and training.
HF: A lot of North American hockey fans may not be familiar with it, but what is the rivalry like between the two Helsinki clubs – your team Jokerit and HIFK?
SM: It's as fierce of a rivalry as anything I've been a part of for sure. At the start of the season in the European Trophy tournament we played two games against IFK and I didn't know until maybe a couple of weeks after I got here – I wasn't so aware of the rivalry. I don't know if anyone back home read about it but in the beginning of the season there were tons of fights and suspensions handed out before the season even started. I learned pretty quickly how intense the rivalry was. But it's a ton of fun and it makes playing IFK great. The city really, really cares about hockey. Everybody's paying a lot of attention when Jokerit's playing IFK. When we're there the rinks sold out and both sides have a ton of fans and they're loud. It's a lot of fun playing them whether it's at our rink or their rink.
HF: Another thing about the SM-Liiga that people may not realize is the vast difference in the facilities. You play at Hartwell Arena, which is an NHL-size facility, and some of the smaller teams like SaiPa or Assat play in college size rinks. What's that like?
SM: That's a pretty good way to describe it. Our rink is similar to an NHL rink. It holds 14 or 15 thousand and then some of the smaller rinks hold 4500 or five thousand. There's a big range but I think it's just part of being a professional. When you get there you just try and focus on the game and not be too worried about the rink. Whether we're playing at our rink which is beautiful or one of the small ones most teams are doing pretty well and a lot of the games are sold out. The fans no matter what size city you're in are coming out to support their team. I think if you ask most players they'd rather play in a sold out rink with 4500 than a 15,000 building with five thousand that feels empty. Wherever we're going it's pretty packed and loud and that's enjoyable.
HF: For someone who's not familiar with the SM-Liiga, what are some of the stereotypes about playing in Europe that you've either found not to be true or were pretty much what people would expect?
SM: I had come over here and trained with Jokerit for a week before my senior year in college so I had a pretty good idea about how hard the Finnish guys play and how intense it is. Before I had been over here I kind of had the idea that it was a completely skilled game and guys had a lot of space on the ice and it was a very offensive game. But actually it's really tough to get points in this league because people are playing so hard and some teams are playing so defensively. A lot of players that are good players and point-a-game players in the AHL come over here and really struggle to produce at the same level that they have in the American League. It's a tight game. Guys aren't lackadaisical at all on defense. That's something that I found out pretty quickly when I got here. They expect you to play really hard defensively and play as a unit. It certainly can be difficult for offensive players to put up huge numbers.
HF: As far as North Americans going to the SM-Liiga, Ryan Lasch had a big year for Pelicans last year and subsequently signed with Anaheim. Other guys like Jeremy Dehner with your team go over to Europe and make a career there. Were you looking at this as a stepping stone back into North America or is playing in Europe something you could see as a career?
SM: I think that I said to people here and the GM here knows that my ultimate goal is to play in the NHL. They respect that. You mentioned Lasch but before that there was Tim Stapleton who played here for two years and then moved on to a couple of years in the American League and last year was with Winnipeg. There's been a lot of examples of guys that have come over for a couple of years and then were able to go back. Of course that's what I would love to do. At the same time I'm really enjoying myself here. I think it's just a matter of trying to enjoy everyday. Hopefully something happens over one of the summers where I have the option to go back and have an NHL deal. If that comes up it's something I'd have to seriously consider. As of right now, I'm very happy here and I just signed a two-year extension here earlier this week. At least for the next couple of years I'll be here unless an NHL deal comes up. There's always an out-clause for NHL deal.
The short answer is if an NHL deal comes up I'd love to go back but if not I'm really enjoying myself.
SM: He's a tremendously-skilled player. He's a young kid and like I said earlier, it's especially difficult this year for younger guys. With all of the NHL players in the league the competition is a little bit tougher. I think he was maybe caught off guard at the start of the season and expected that it was going to be a little bit easier than it was. But, since Val Filppula's been injured he's been playing with me and Ilari Filppula and he's been playing great. He really has top, top-level skill with incredible hands, great vision. I think he's going to be a great player for a long time in the NHL. It's certainly a joy to play with him and he's developing more and more all of the time. He's going to be a pretty special player.