By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
He left after five seasons having established himself as one of the premier Silvertips in franchise history. Not only did he become one of the team’s all-time fan favorites, but he etched his name in the Silvertips’ record book with some notable career marks.
Harper, who recently turned 22, is the club’s all-time leader in games played (335) and goals (100), and he has the top consecutive-game streak of 214 from the third game of the 2007-08 season through the end of last season.
In 2009-2010, Harper played in all 72 games, scoring a team-record 42 goals and totaling 80 points, both team highs. In Everett’s seven playoff games he tallied six goals and 10 points, also team bests.
And for all those reasons, Harper is The Herald’s 2010 Man of the Year in Sports.
Harper, who has a contract with the Philadelphia Flyers of the NHL and plays for the Greenville (S.C.) Road Warriors, a Flyers’ affiliate in the East Coast Hockey League, was too old to stay in junior hockey another season. But he still says he left Everett grudgingly.
“I loved it there,” he said, speaking by telephone from Greenville. “And I miss Everett. Sometimes I wish I was still there. It was such a great city.
“The rink (at Comcast Arena) is unbelievable and I’d say we had the best fans in the league. I know they were the loudest. … I came from California and I didn’t know how I’d handle the rain, but I got used to it really quick.”
Arriving in Everett at 16, “I was just a little guy,” recalled Harper, a native of Valencia, Calif. “And the first two years were basically a learning curve for me. But I learned pretty quick and we had some great teams those first two years, so I got to learn from some pretty talented guys.
“Each year after that I did better and better. I definitely matured as a player and person.”
He scored a career-best 42 goals in his final Everett season, “and I was pretty proud of that,” he said. And likewise proud of his marks for total career games and consecutive games, which both will be “hard to break.”
In March of last year, Harper signed his contract with Philadelphia, assuring him of a place to play this season as well as creating a possible doorway to the NHL.
“It was,” he said, “kind of a whirlwind of a year. But I couldn’t have asked for much more. My plan was just to play as best I could and put up as many points as I could.
“Getting to play under (Silvertips head coach) Craig Hartsburg was awesome, and (assistant coaches) Jay Varady and Chris Hartsburg were, too. It was a great coaching group, and it made it fun to come to the rink every day.”
Harper started this season with the Adirondack Phantoms (Glens Falls, N.Y.) of the American Hockey League, the Flyers’ top affiliate. He played 20 games with the Phantoms, but then was sent to Greenville, which he likened to being a baseball player going from Class AAA to AA.
“I was doing all right (with Adirondack),” he said, “but I wasn’t putting up that many points. The coach and the general manager thought that by coming down here, and because I’m still really young, I’d be able to play more and learn the game more.
“I’m happy down here. I really like it. It gives me a chance to actually play a lot and to be a big part of the team.”
And his goal of getting to the NHL remains very vivid and very real, he said.
“I have a legitimate shot,” he said. “When I think about it sometimes, I know that I’m really close. A couple of guys I played with this year (at Adirondack) got called up. They were there with us one day, and then all of a sudden they got called up.
“So it’s definitely a lot more real to me than it was before last year. Hopefully in the next couple of years I’ll have some good years and then we’ll see where it goes from there.”
Wherever he ends up, and regardless of what happens in his remaining hockey career, Harper will never forget his years in Everett. It became like a home to him — and perhaps someday will be a home again.
“It was a great five years there and it went by really fast,” he said. “And maybe someday I’ll have a place there. Because I really did love it there.”