The Moynihan brothers of Windham are playing for a new team, in a new league in a new country. The attendance has increased roughly 90-fold.
One thing hasn’t changed. The dream of making it big.
To realize that dream, 17-year-old Danny and 16-year-old Connor Moynihan have pulled up stakes and moved in with a host family to play for the defending champion Halifax Mooseheads of the vaunted Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“We went to Halifax for a few days and came back empty-nesters,” said the boys’ father, Dan Sr. “It’s very strange with them being gone and the house being so quiet.”
The boys had been accustomed to quiet during games. That’s changed in the Q, as the league is known.
Their Sept. 12 home opener drew 9,301 to the Metro Centre. In their next home game, they drew 4,048. At these times, Halifax seems much further than 410 miles away from Windham.
Playing junior hockey while attending Windham High, the Moynihans never played before anything like that before.
“Tops maybe 100 fans, and that was only on occasion,” said Danny of his previous top crowds. “Usually it was 20-30 fans. It’s unbelievable coming here.”
Connor said of the opener, “I had goose bumps the whole night.”
As if leaving home at such a young age isn’t difficult enough. The tradeoff for playing in the Q, with its crowds, tradition, talent, and reputation with the NHL, is you lose your college eligibility.
Since they were old enough to skate, the dream was to follow in the Division 1 footsteps of their uncle, Ryan Moynihan (45 career goals at Cornell), and cousins Chuck Tomes (Northeastern 2005-06 captain) and Scott Tomes (two-year starting goalie at UConn). All three cousins played minor league hockey in the ECHL.
Danny said, “I grew up going to Division 1 college hockey games. I guess I thought Division 1 was the way to go. Until I came here.”
Connor said, “BC was my favorite. That was the goal until last year. I guess it was my dream until getting interest from the Q.”
Obviously, it was a gut-wrenching time for the family. Make that a doubly gut-wrenching time.
“It was a very difficult decision. One that was taken very seriously,” said their father.
“We talked it over with the boys at least 20 times after the boys were offered contracts. ... It is a very non-traditional path for a New England hockey player to play in the Q. All things considered, we are very happy with their decision.”
They live with a family and attend Prince Andrews High in nearby Dartmouth. Both compare Halifax, a city of 300,000 in Nova Scotia, to Boston.
Danny said playing with Connor “is awesome. It’s great.”
A blue-chip prospect
Connor is at least a year younger than all but one of his Halifax teammates. But the 6-foot-3, 203-pound left wing, who only turned 16 in July, is considered a top prospect. He was drafted in the fifth round by the Mooseheads.
He scored 18 points in 19 games for the for the U16 Islanders junior team out of Merrimack College. As a freshman last spring at Windham High, the southpaw batted .415.
Moosehead head coach Dominique Ducharme recently said, “Connor is big and physical and he has great potential.”
He has one goal through three games and isn’t afraid to drop the gloves against his older rivals.
“I already did it once,” he explained. “I held my own. (Moncton’s Kyle Haas) asked me to go and I wasn’t going to back down. He’s known in the league for fighting. I got the takedown.”
He misses his friends back home like Jon Cafua, James Marnie and Luciano “Skippy” Schipelliti and hanging out on Shady Lane. But he says the transition hasn’t been overwhelming.
“Not really. A little bit,” said Connor, who lives with the same family as his older brother. “I’m over it. You have to take some chances and risks to make it where you want to go. We have a new family now and we’re making new friends.”
Making name for himself
Although he’s older, in many ways Danny has to escape from Connor’s shadow. He may not have caught up to his more physically imposing sibling, but he’s opening some eyes.
Danny was signed as a free agent, so he’s had to claw to get this far. But the 6-foot, 178-pound left wing led the team in scoring in the preseason and has a goal and an assist in the first three games.
Just because Connor signed, it was no guarantee that Danny would, too.
“There were quite a few sleepless nights,” said Moynihan a former Windham High baseball star (he batted .314 as a freshman two years ago). “It was 50-50. It had to be my decision. There were benefits to both routes. After coming to Halifax, I knew this is the route I wanted to go.”
Ducharme said to the QMJHL media, “Danny has a lot of speed and brings good offense with that speed. He has a complete game.”
He showed a lot of those traits last season with the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs, tallying 19 points in 21 games.
Still it was a big jump.
“I had to prove myself,” said Danny. “I knew I could compete with these guys.”
The move, he felt, was just the right thing to do.
“It’s tough,” said the older brother. “Sometimes you miss home. Hockey is what I want to do now. It’s a priority. I’ll do whatever it takes.”
Follow Michael Muldoon on Twitter under the screen name @MullyET.