Ethan Moreau had a career plan for when he stopped playing. He thought scouting would be his strength and, after retiring from 16 years in the National Hockey League, he took a job with the Montreal Canadiens.
After two seasons, his plans changed.
“I went directly from being a player into pro scouting,” said Moreua, who scored 287 points in 928 career games with Chicago, Edmonton, Columbus and Los Angeles. “Pro scouting is more on the management side. You’re dealing with trades and free agency. That was what I thought I’d be best suited for but I found out quickly I wasn’t. Coaching is the closest thing to playing as you can get. I missed game day, just being around players every day and building a strategy. I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t tried scouting.”
When it was time to try coaching, he took a job with the Academy of Hockey at HarborCenter, which ignited his interest, then landed his first gig in the NCAA as an assistant coach for Niagara.
“They run a great academy there. Everything’s done very professionally,” Moreau said of the Academy of Hockey. “And I got back on the ice with players. I think that’s what sparked this. I really enjoyed being on the ice, especially with some of the more elite players. I got to work with anyone from a 7-year-old kid to an NHL guy. It gave me a huge spectrum to work with. Hockey’s hockey. The same thing I was teaching an 8-year-old I was teaching a Division I player. That’s what made me realize I wanted to try coaching.”
The former captain of the Edmonton Oilers joined the Purple Eagles in September, reuniting with head coach Dave Burkholder. The two first met when Moreau was an up-and-coming player in major junior with the Niagara Falls Thunder of the Ontario Hockey League and Burkholder was an assistant general manager and coach.
“I was lucky enough to coach him when he was one of the future stars of the NHL. He was a first-round pick when we were with the Thunder together,” Burkholder said. “He can stand in front of the team and command respect and he’s a brilliant hockey mind. It’s a good fit."
The opportunity to work with Burkholder and the different challenge of working with college players drew Moreau to the job.
“It was supremely important for me to work with someone that I got along with and I respected and I knew I could work with,” said Moreau, whose family lives in Niagara Falls, Ont. “I didn’t really want to pursue any opportunities in junior or pro hockey. I’ve lived that life. I wanted something different. And it seemed a little more stable where you can actually have a four-year plan, execute it and not worry about immediate results.”
Results, the good kind, have been difficult to come by for the Purple Eagles the last two seasons. In that time the program has just 13 wins.
But there is a history of winning. And not that long ago. It was 2013 when Niagara became the first school from Atlantic Hockey to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. That pedigree also convinced Moreau to make his college hockey debut with the Purple Eagles. After opening weekend, where Niagara earned a point against league foe Holy Cross, Moreau took notice of the skill level and work ethic of the current roster.
“You realize the talent level, the difference between a top NCAA player and even a pro player compared to some of our guys, it’s really small,” Moreau said. “You try to get across that even in the East Coast level to the NHL level, it’s not a big difference in skill level. A lot of it is mental and your confidence in how you execute, in how you prepare. Those little, subtle things that the best players do, that’s what separates them.
“If you put a top NHL player in practice, it wouldn’t be overwhelming. At times you wouldn’t even notice a difference. It’s just what they do in certain situations. I think that’s what I noticed. The skill level is there. The work ethic is definitely there. It’s just the consistency of doing something 100 percent instead of 85 percent.”