Canes’ Harrison a nominee for NHL award

Rugged Cane returned from injury with renewed focus

calexander@newsobserver.comMarch 27, 2012 

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The Carolina Hurricanes' Jay Harrison (44) fires a shot during warm-ups before an NHL game played between the Carolina Hurricanes and the San Jose Sharks at the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C. on Feb. 17, 2012.

CHRIS SEWARD — cseward@newsobserver.com

There was a time, just a few years ago, when Jay Harrison wondered if he would play in the NHL again.

There was a time this season when the defenseman was sidelined by a concussion and wondered when he would play for the Carolina Hurricanes again.

That Harrison returned – to the NHL, to the Canes’ lineup – quickly and with more resolve says a lot about him. It’s also a big reason why he’s the Hurricanes’ nominee this year for the 2012 Bill Masterton Trophy, which honors perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

“It’s a pretty prestigious award and hopefully my nomination is a reflection of what I have worked for in my career,” Harrison said Monday.

Harrison, 29, was thrilled in 2001 to be drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was raised in nearby Whitby, Ont. The Leafs were his team and playing for them was his dream.

“Everything I constructed in my mind about what the NHL was all about came from watching the Leafs,” Harrison said.

Harrison would play 20 games for the Maple Leafs over three seasons, bouncing between the NHL and the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League. In 2008, his career seemingly stalled, he made the decision to go overseas and try professional hockey in Switzerland.

“It’s kind of an unwritten thing, but when you go to Europe you feel like you’re giving up on your dream and quitting on it,” Harrison said. “You’re turning your back on your dream to try and find something else, to start over in a new place and try and be a success there.

“It’s a great place to raise a family and being there was a great life experience. But just when you think the door has been closed, another door opens.”

Harrison returned to the Leafs in March 2009 to finish out the season. His time in the Swiss league, competing on larger ice surfaces, helped his skating and he returned a more complete player.

And a more determined one.

Harrison signed a contract with the Canes in July 2009. He was starting over again with a new team.

“Just when you think something is over, sometimes it’s only the beginning,” Harrison said. “That’s a good perspective on a lot of life. You never know what the future will bring.”

Harrison has become a regular on the back end for the Hurricanes and achieved that with hard work. Paired much of this season with Justin Faulk, he has helped the rookie defenseman weather the ups and downs of a long, testing season.

“He’s been around the league and knows all the ins and outs,” Faulk said.

Harrison has established career highs with eight goals, 14 assists and 22 points. He has done it despite missing 10 games in late-November and early December recovering from the concussion.

“You see guys go through a lot of issues when they’re coming back from concussions,” Harrison said. “I was fortunate to get through it with only a few setbacks. There’s a lot of uncertainty that goes with a concussion and it puts a heavy toll on your psyche, but I was fortunate to get back on the horse pretty quickly and get back to playing.”

Harrison was chosen as the Hurricanes’ Masterton nominee by the Carolina chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association. The winner will be announced in June at the NHL awards ceremony.

The award honors the late Bill Masterton, who was fatally injured in a January 1968 game when he hit the back of his head on the ice. Masterton was 29, and his death raised questions about player safety and the need to make helmets mandatory in the NHL.

“I’ve had rough patches here and there that tested my willingness to play, and I would not have gotten this far in hockey without a love for it and dedication to it, and without all the sacrifices made by my wife and family,” Harrison said. “It’s an honor just to be chosen and nominated.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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