You won’t hear a southern drawl when talking to Youngstown Phantoms’ Chase Pearson or Connor Moore. Natives of Georgia, peaches aren’t necessarily their favorite fruit, and they prefer the chill of the ice to the warm southern sun any day of the week.
Yet despite their non-traditional hockey roots, Pearson and Moore have proven that wherever you hail from, you can make it to the big stage.
Pearson, a center out of Alpharetta, Georgia, is a Detroit Red Wings draft pick (fifth round, 140th overall in 2015) who is committed to the University of Maine. He is one of the leading scorers for the Phantoms with 36 points in 47 games this season. Moore, a defenseman from Cumming, Georgia, is committed to Boston College. Moore is one of the top point-producing defensemen in the entire league with 5 goals and 23 points in 52 contests.
So how do two southerners land in Ohio, living and chasing their dreams of playing college and pro hockey? We caught up with the pair to find out.
USHL: Georgia’s better known for its football and basketball rather than its hockey. How did that affect your development growing up?
Chase Pearson: It’s definitely a different hockey market to grow up in. We grew up playing at The Cooler through the Atlanta Fire Hockey Club (AAA). My dad [former NHLer Scott Pearson] coached Connor and me all the way up through Midget Minor. There was a lot of available ice time down there, so that helped me develop as a player for sure.
Connor Moore: Growing up I actually started with roller hockey when I was little, until I got in to ice hockey at The Cooler a couple of years later.
USHL: Connor, do you still work roller hockey into your workout routines?
Moore: Yeah I keep playing inline. During the summer my brother and I live in Boston to train and we meet up with our buddies and play street hockey all the time, which is fun.
USHL: Back to the ice. You guys played hockey together up until prep school. Did you stay in touch before rejoining forces in Youngstown?
Pearson: Yeah, we’ve always been pretty good friends. Connor left for prep school (at Brooks School in New England) and I stayed in Atlanta, but we both ended up in the USHL. It’s the best junior league to go to before college and then to have two Georgia boys with Connor and me, that’s something pretty special.
USHL: Growing up were either of you familiar with the USHL or what it really offered?
Pearson: Honestly, I wasn’t very familiar at all. In Georgia you don’t really hear about hockey, let alone different leagues that are out there. As I got older I started hearing a little bit more, and I had a few friends who had played there before. Really I didn’t learn about it until I was drafted (by Youngstown in 2013).
Moore: Yeah I wasn’t aware of the USHL until I was about 15 or so. That’s when I started looking at playing in the league. I finally got the opportunity to play here this year, which has been great.
USHL: So not being too familiar with the USHL, what made you decide to join the league?
Pearson: Personally, for me, I think it fits my style of play. I knew I wanted to go to college and get an education. That was really important for me. The USHL is the best league to feed in to a college program and to get seen by college scouts, so that was a big part of it for me.
Moore: I came out last year to just practice with the team, and that was my first real introduction to the USHL. Ever since then, I knew I really wanted to play in this league. It’s a lot faster, there are a lot of bigger guys, so there’s an adjustment from what I was playing with growing up. It’s been a good challenge and I’ve seen a big jump in my development.
USHL: How impressed have you been with the level of talent on the ice and behind the bench?
Moore: The coaching is great. They’re always on you – in a good way – and tell you what you’ve done well and what you’re struggling with, which is awesome. They take a lot of time out of their day to make every player a better player, person and teammate.
Pearson: I’ve played for two different coaches, coach (Anthony) Noreen my first year and now coach John Wroblewski, and both have been fantastic. They both helped me develop a lot and I’m very appreciative to both of them for that. I’ve seen just how far my game has come. As far as the competition, it doesn’t get any better than this league. It’s easy to see why it’s the best junior league for development.
USHL: Being the best junior league has its perks – like a path to play college puck. You both have made Division I commitments. How has the USHL helped prepare you for that level of the game?
Pearson: I think the USHL prepares you in so many ways. You’re in high school while you’re traveling and playing hockey, so you have to find that balance, just like you would in college. It’s tough. You really have to make sure you manage your time to the best of your ability. You make a schedule and you get into a routine every day to help with time management. By doing all of that now (in the USHL) I think it will make that transition in to college and Division I hockey much easier.
Moore: Yeah, it’s definitely helped me find a routine that works. Now when I get to college I’m hoping I’ll already be used to a similar routine.
USHL: Coming from a non-traditional hockey market, did you see yourselves playing in a top-tier junior league like the USHL, and then on to Division I?
Moore: I always wanted to play hockey in college. I grew up watching Boston College play, and it was my dream school growing up. The opportunity arose to play there, so that’s awesome. The same type of thing with the USHL; once I learned more about it, I knew I wanted to be a part of it.
Pearson: I’ve always had a big belief in myself and in my abilities. You have to believe in yourself to get up to the next level. Once Youngstown drafted me, I’ll admit, I was a little bit surprised. I went in to camp and I didn’t even make it that first try. So I went north and played a few games and then eventually came back and I made the team. I believed in myself and I thought I could make it and just kept working hard at it. And now, here I am.
USHL: Do you think we’ll be seeing more kids from Georgia in the USHL someday?
Moore: I would definitely recommend the USHL to anyone – in Georgia or any state. The practices are way more up-tempo, everyone battles in practice and in games and there are always coaches and scouts watching and helping you get better. They want to help you get to the next level. You can’t beat that, especially for a kid from Georgia.
Pearson: In Georgia, just like everywhere else, we’re trying to get players to the highest level possible. So when I go back and kids ask me questions, I’ll give them some background and tell them about the league. We’re trying to spread the word out there. Hopefully one day those kids I talked to will be able to play in the USHL like I did.
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 14th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2015-16. A record 37 players were chosen in the 2015 NHL Draft and more than 375 players on team rosters last season committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent.