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Wild vs. Hurricanes
Tracking the Storm

Harrison Proving He Belongs

Wednesday, 03.02.2011 / 10:20 AM / 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 MTL 64 41 18 5 172 142 87
2 NYR 63 39 17 7 197 155 85
3 NYI 65 41 21 3 207 182 85
4 TBL 65 39 20 6 213 171 84
5 DET 62 36 15 11 182 160 83
6 PIT 63 36 18 9 182 158 81
7 WSH 65 35 20 10 193 162 80
8 BOS 62 31 22 9 165 161 71
9 FLA 64 28 23 13 156 181 69
10 OTT 62 28 23 11 176 167 67
11 PHI 64 27 25 12 170 186 66
12 NJD 64 27 27 10 144 165 64
13 TOR 64 26 33 5 173 195 57
14 CBJ 63 26 33 4 163 201 56
15 CAR 62 24 31 7 144 167 55
16 BUF 64 19 40 5 123 215 43

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Faulk 62 12 28 -18 40
E. Staal 57 18 20 -12 38
E. Lindholm 61 11 16 -18 27
J. Skinner 57 16 10 -17 26
N. Gerbe 58 7 16 -10 23
R. Nash 59 7 15 -10 22
V. Rask 60 8 12 -16 20
J. McClement 62 6 13 3 19
J. Staal 26 4 12 -4 16
A. Nestrasil 34 4 11 4 15
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Ward 17 20 4 .911 2.43
A. Khudobin 7 11 3 .905 2.61