Talk about a comeback season.
Though he was named the Michigan hockey team’s most improved player after his stellar sophomore season in 2002-03, senior David Moss is the only Wolverine skater to already surpass his point total from last season. After a drop in production during his eight-goal, 12-assist junior campaign — which was down from his sophomore effort of 14 goals and 17 assists — Moss might be playing the best hockey of his collegiate career in his final year in Ann Arbor. The Livonia native has scored 23 points in just 22 games after scoring 20 in 38 contests last season.
“David Moss, right now, is playing as well as I’ve seen him play,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “I think he’s competing harder. I think he’s working harder. He’s playing with a little bit more patience with the puck, and (he’s) playing with a little more authority.”
But for a player with most of the tools to be a great hockey player — imposing size at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, deft puck-handling ability, physically aggressive play and a positive attitude — Moss has received precious little attention during this and past seasons.
“(Moss) is one of the guys who’s always been under the radar screen,” senior captain Eric Nystrom said. “Still, people don’t recognize him for the player that he is. I’ve always thought he was an underrated player, and he’s playing great.
“People don’t give him credit for the skills that he has. He’s an unbelievable playmaker. He can finish the puck, and he’s big. And he’s just a good, solid two-way player who can put the puck in the net.”
Moss has become more effective at using his size to his advantage this season. In the second period of last Saturday’s game in Kalamazoo, the center flattened a Western Michigan player in the Broncos’ zone. The momentum shift after the hit led to a Michigan offensive attack that culminated in Brandon Kaleniecki’s second goal of the night. The helper was credited to Moss, who had also assisted on Kaleniecki’s first score just 2:25 earlier.
“Often a good hit will start a good play,” Berenson said. “When Moss is playing physical and strong and playing with authority, he’s a better player.”
Kaleniecki, who enjoys it when Moss “knocks guys around,” has developed impressive chemistry with his larger linemate.
“It’s exciting (to play with Moss),” Kaleniecki said. “I know where to go when he’s got the puck, because he’s looking to make that pass into the slot.”
But Kaleniecki isn’t the only player who has found it easy to build a rapport with Moss on the ice. Moss has spent considerable time this season on lines with Milan Gajic, Jason Ryznar, Jeff Tambellini and others.
And his play has stood out regardless of who he’s been teamed with.
“I feel comfortable that Moss can be the glue on a line,” Berenson said. “He plays pretty well with anyone. As a coach, it’s good to have players who have played with multiple players on the team and can be effective with them. I think he plays as well with anybody (on the team) as anyone.”
For his part, Moss doesn’t mind whom he skates with in game situations. He cites the players’ high talent levels as the reason for his indifference. As far as his own play, Moss — who is tied for the team lead with 16 assists and four power play goals — credits his improvement to a new focus and a sense of urgency in his final year at Michigan.
“I think (I’ve been) focusing more, preparing more for every game,” Moss said. “I think (the fact that it’s senior year) is always in the back of your mind. You know this is your last year, and it’s do or die. If you don’t perform this year, we’re not going to get to that game we want to be playing at the end of the year. Things need to get done.”
Moss, who was drafted by the Calgary Flames in 2001, is also known as a comedian by his teammates. Nystrom — a 2002 Flames draftee — is one Wolverine who appreciates Moss’s sense of humor.
“He’s one of the funniest guys I know,” Nystrom said. “He’s somebody you always want to be around, and you enjoy having him in your company. He’s witty. He’s quick. He’s just a great kid.”
But all joking aside, the confident Moss has become one of the Wolverines’ most dangerous weapons.
“We’re expecting more from (Moss) now (compared to past seasons),” Berenson said. “He is proving that he can be one of our top players.”