This is Terry Harper (#19 for the Habs) in the 1960s. Harper was a stay-at-home defender who spent the decade marking the world’s best left wingers on the right side of Montreal’s defensive alignment. Harper was not a popular player in Montreal, routinely booed and rarely cheered. Opposition players said nice things about him (Bobby Hull said he was his toughest mark) but Montreal was not an easy city for Harper.
In the book Lions In Winter, my favorite story about the storied Habs involves Harper:
Just inside the blueline, Harper slid off yet another bodycheck and carried the puck behind the Chicago net. As he skated directly behind the cage, two Black Hawks smashed into him simultaneously. Falling, he still had enough leverage to pass the puck out in front of the net where John Ferguson was all alone in front of Tony Esposito . Ferguson made no mistake, and the Canadiens were on their way to a 4-2 win (and an eventual Cup).
A teammate, who prefers to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, summed it up best: “That was the best ‘fuck you’ play I’ve ever seen in hockey. It was all some of the players could do not to give the crowd the finger”.
Harper disentangled himself from the two Chicago players and rose to the rare, for him, sound of a standing ovation as all of his teammates on the ice converged around him, rather than Ferguson the scorer.
In the stands, fans were cheering wildly, if not looking out the corners of their eye in semi-accusation at all of their confreres who had had the temerity to boo such a wonderful hockey player.
I saw Harper on television the other night, he’s like 70 and still playing rec hockey. Seemed happy with life and enjoying the game. Terry Harper and Tom Gilbert are not good comps in terms of style, but they are a match in one way: the home fans aren’t impressed despite evidence of their effectiveness.
I’ve read a few places this year that “Gilbert is playing well–for Gilbert” and other backhanded compliments. It is with some dismay that I’ve watched the one guy with credentials and endurance during this 07-11 train wreck become the lightning rod for all that is bad on the blue.
Despite all the rants and raves, the coach (actually three of them) kept playing Gilbert, just like coaches kept playing Harper. Tom Awad is right–TOI in all three situations is a great judge of value.
It’s a big day in the arena debate, all creatures great and small will be talking all day before council makes a decision. I gave my views here and like you will wait for the decision. I don’t think this is going to be a good day for Oiler fans.
As for the Oilers, they have a tough schedule this week and could go 0-3. Canucks tonight, Caps on Thursday and then on the road Friday night against the Avs. That’s a difficult schedule, with only St. Louis on Sunday offering good odds based on quality of team and recent performance.
I think we should prepare for a few L’s this week. On and off the ice.