By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — Ryan Harrison has been waiting for this moment for a long time.
So have the Everett Silvertips.
Everett’s leading returning scorer takes to the ice for the first time this season when the Tips play host tonight to the Tri-City Americans at Comcast Arena.
And for Harrison, who’s finally shed his black practice jersey in favor of a colored one designating eligible players, the wait was nearly unbearable.
“It feels great to be back in a lineup jersey and not a suspension jersey,” Harrison said Tuesday. “It’s been a long time since I’ve played a game, so I’m really excited. After watching and just kind of sitting out, I definitely wanted to get back in.”
Everett played its first four games without Harrison, a 20-year-old winger who was serving a suspension handed down by the league. Harrison was slapped with a four-game suspension for a charging major penalty taken in Everett’s final game of the playoffs last season against Tri-City. That suspension carried over to the start of this season.
Harrison has now served his time, and the Tips are welcoming him back with open arms.
“It’s huge for us,” said Kohl Bauml, Harrison’s centerman. “He’s a leader both on and off the ice. He’s a very talented hockey player — he was probably one of our best, if not the best, forward on our team the last half of the year. He plays both sides of the puck, too, so he’ll be a big part of our team going forward.”
Harrison’s return is significant for the Tips. Last season, he finished second on the team in scoring with 52 points (20 goals, 32 assists) in 70 games. As a fifth-year overager Harrison brings plenty of experience to the table, having appeared in 274 career regular-season games. The darting winger also has some sandpaper in his game (103 penalty minutes) and was just one of two Everett players who finished with a plus rating last season.
“He brings some leadership, he’s a guy who’s been in the league and been a pretty good player for us,” Everett coach Mark Ferner said. “He’ll bring some more consistency and hopefully help out in the locker room as well. Whenever you add an older body who’s been around the league, you certainly feel it’s going to help.”
Harrison’s return is also a boon for his teammates, specifically Bauml and Cody Fowlie. Harrison, Bauml and Fowlie were put together on a line midway through last season, and during the second half they were Everett’s most productive trio. Bauml and Fowlie have yet to get going offensively this season, but the three are skating together once again in practice, and the Tips hope Harrison’s return sparks all three players.
“We’ll keep that line together and see how they do,” Ferner said. “We’re trying to get both Bauml and Fowlie going, too. They had some pretty good chemistry last year, and we’ll see how their game progresses.”
Said Bauml: “It’s what we’re hoping for, bringing back the chemistry. Me and Fowls played together the past two games, so we have half of that and he and I are starting to work pretty well together again. Bringing Harry back into the lineup, he’s going to fit right in with us.”
Tonight’s game will be Harrison’s first taste of competitive hockey since being ejected during Game 4 against the Americans in March. He was unable to participate in training camp or the preseason because of a bout of mononucleosis.
Harrison said he’s 100-percent recovered from the illness, including gaining back the 10 pounds he lost, and he’s been participating fully in practices the past two weeks. Nevertheless, it may take Harrison some time to get back up to game speed.
“Harry hasn’t played a game that’s meant anything since the playoffs last year, so I’m sure he’s going to be a little rusty,” Ferner said. “We’re just going to ask him to not try and do too much, just be a good 20-year-old.”
Harrison doesn’t think it’ll be long before he’s back to being the impact player the Tips need him to be.
“I’ve been through it enough times, many season openers and first games after a long summer, that I think I’ll be ready,” Harrison said. “It might take me a few shifts to get the game face back, but I don’t think it will take too long.”
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.