RALEIGH — Two years ago, Jay Harrison was playing professional hockey in Switzerland, wondering if he had a future in the NHL.
Bryan Allen was in the NHL, with the Florida Panthers, but mending a damaged left knee. He wondered if he still had a future in hockey.
"When you're out a whole year, there's definitely doubt," Allen said Sunday. "There are times when you think, 'Is this ever going to get better, am I ever going to play again?'
"What got me through it was belief. You have a focus, you have a goal, you have determination to get it done."
The same was true for Harrison. He, too, kept his focus, kept his goal in sight and was determined.
Different circumstances have brought the two defensemen together with the Carolina Hurricanes. They now have a common goal: to help the Canes win, to help them reach the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in two years.
Harrison, 28, played the 2008-09 season with Ev Zug of the Swiss League, on the larger European rinks, in a game built around skill and scoring more than girth and toughness.
"It's a different game," Harrison said. "It taught me a lot about competitiveness. It's like a football atmosphere at games, with a lot of pressure to win. Add in the big rink, the skills, forced to skate, forced to handle the puck, it all helped my game.
"I had a great year and was kind of planning on going back. Then I got a call from the Toronto Maple Leafs."
The Leafs drafted Harrison in 2001, and he played only a handful of NHL games in 2006 and again in 2007, when Paul Maurice was the Toronto coach. But the Leafs wanted him back late in '09, and the Oshawa, Ontario, native got in seven NHL games under coach Ron Wilson.
"To play the last few weeks of the season was peculiar and exciting and fun and interesting," Harrison said. "It was kind of like a door was open, and an opportunity I once thought was gone was revisited."
Harrison's seven games for the Leafs were five more than Allen had for the Panthers in the '09 season. After playing in the opener against the Hurricanes - and getting an assist in Florida's 6-4 loss at the RBC Center - and then the next night against the Atlanta Thrashers, Allen realized his knee was to the point he couldn't take the pain any longer.
Allen, then 28, needed microfracture surgery to correct cartilage damage he said had developed over time.
"The cartilage was worn away," he said.
The rehabilitation, Allen said, was slow and at times demoralizing.
"A whole wave of emotions," he said. "You have low days. You have days where you think you're almost there, then days when you think is this ever going to get better? It was a real test."
But things would change, for Harrison and Allen. Harrison signed as a free agent with the Hurricanes in July 2009, reuniting with Maurice, who had been rehired as Carolina's coach in December 2008. And Allen, the knee healed, bounced back to play 74 games for the Panthers last season.
Harrison spent part of last season with the Albany River Rats, then the Canes' American Hockey League affiliate, but did play 38 games for Carolina. He had a strong training camp and has been a regular in the lineup this season, bringing size and some bruising play to the back end.
Allen, from Kingston, Ontario, would give the Canes even more. On the Feb. 28 NHL trade deadline, Carolina sent winger Sergei Samsonov to the Panthers for Allen, a 6-foot-5, 226-pounder with some nasti ness in his game.
"He's a presence back there," Maurice said. "He plays a mean game and talks to people on the other team, and does a good job clearing the front of the net out. He really gets his point across in front of our net. He's been good."
Harrison will drop the gloves when necessary. He doesn't mind the rough stuff. He also has turned sniper a few times and chipped in with three goals.
But what Harrison really wants is his first taste of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Allen experienced seven playoff games while with the Vancouver Canucks, the last in 2004.
"I've heard nothing but stories about, 'Wait until you get in the playoffs here and see how it is,' " Allen said, smiling. "That's what we want."
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