Flyers vs. Hurricanes
Tracking the Storm

Harrison Proving He Belongs

Wednesday, 03.2.2011 / 10:20 AM ET / Tracking the Storm
By Paul Branecky
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Harrison Proving He Belongs
As one of the Hurricanes’ steadiest performers this season, defenseman Jay Harrison ought to finally be feeling good about the safety of his job. As it turns out, old habits die hard.

In his first full NHL season at the age of 28, Harrison isn’t taking anything for granted.

Paul Branecky
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“It’s been a pretty good year for me and the fact that I’ve been able to play every day gives you as much security as you can have, but you never have security,” he said.

When considering the steps he’s taken to get to where he is today, that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

As recently as three seasons ago, Harrison, who was not re-signed by the Toronto Maple Leafs organization in summer of 2008, couldn’t find a job in North America. Out of options, he left for the Swiss league.

He did so with the impression that there wouldn’t be any turning back.

“You feel like you’re closing the door on your dream and that you’re cashing out,” he said.

Now, he’s finally fulfilling that dream with the Hurricanes. After a literally up-and-down first season in the organization that featured stints with Carolina and the American Hockey League’s Albany River Rats, a few appearances on the waiver wire and a nagging injury, Harrison, now healthy and more experienced, is a big-league fixture for the first time in his career.

“He certainly appreciates where he is, and he had to work for everything he got,” said coach Paul Maurice, who first coached Harrison with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies in 2005-06. “When he came to this team this year, he wasn’t handed that spot. He earned it and he’s hung on to it. He’s played very well for us.”

At every stop, Harrison has had to fight for his place in the lineup. Even in Switzerland, where league rules prohibited more than four “import” players from suiting up for a team on any given night.

“There was a lot of pressure,” he said. “A lot of teams have six or seven imports on the roster but can only dress four per game, so there’s a lot of competition for playing time.”

That continued upon his return to Toronto in February of that season and in his first campaign with the Hurricanes. Although he played just 38 games with Carolina in 2009-10, that more than quadrupled his career high of eight set with the Maple Leafs back in 2005-06.

That unprecedented opening is what made the timing of his bothersome injury so difficult. It was a problem that needed surgery, but that would have to wait until the offseason.

”I battled through it all season in the minors and here, but it wasn’t a situation where I could afford to miss time,” he said. “That’s the nature of the game when you’re on the cusp, but I had the opportunity here to get that door open, and I wasn’t going to let an injury get in the way.”

That level of dedication, along with an improved skating stride honed on the larger international ice surface in the Swiss league, impressed the Hurricanes enough to bring the gritty 6-foot-4, 211-pound blue liner back on another one-year deal. With Harrison setting career highs in games played (61), goals (3), assists (6), points (9) and penalty minutes (62) while leading all Carolina defensemen in plus/minus (+6) and featuring on the penalty kill, it’s one that the team is not regretting.

Not that Maurice is particularly surprised, given Harrison’s finish to last season.

“I thought in the last 10 games last year there was a change in him,” he said. “Especially for defensemen, you can almost see it in their presence on the ice when they really believe they should be in the league and that they deserve to be there. He brought that back this year, but has continued to grow and improve.”

That level of trust has Harrison confident in his play, but one can forgive him for never feeling too safe. Still, he knows he’s come a long way since he left for Europe three years ago, thinking his window had closed for good.

“That’s the lesson I’d give to any player, because now I’m back, playing in the NHL,” he said.


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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 x - MTL 77 47 22 8 203 174 102
2 x - NYR 75 47 21 7 228 177 101
3 x - TBL 77 47 23 7 249 201 101
4 PIT 76 42 23 11 210 190 95
5 NYI 77 45 27 5 235 215 95
6 DET 75 40 23 12 220 206 92
7 WSH 76 41 25 10 223 188 92
8 BOS 76 38 25 13 201 196 89
9 OTT 75 37 26 12 218 203 86
10 FLA 76 35 26 15 190 207 85
11 PHI 76 30 29 17 198 219 77
12 CBJ 75 36 35 4 207 232 76
13 NJD 76 31 33 12 168 194 74
14 CAR 75 28 36 11 174 204 67
15 TOR 76 28 42 6 198 244 62
16 BUF 76 21 47 8 148 255 50

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
E. Staal 70 21 28 -12 49
J. Faulk 75 15 32 -17 47
E. Lindholm 74 16 21 -19 37
J. Skinner 70 18 13 -21 31
V. Rask 73 11 20 -12 31
R. Nash 68 8 17 -10 25
N. Gerbe 71 8 17 -13 25
J. McClement 75 7 13 -3 20
A. Nestrasil 47 7 13 4 20
J. Staal 39 4 16 -7 20
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Ward 20 21 5 .911 2.40
A. Khudobin 8 15 6 .904 2.60