Harper never took a shift off, now takes them in the NHL
Shane Harper just kept going about his business.
Undrafted, demoted, injured, through all the stops and starts, Harper kept doing what he’s always done – work hard.
That dedication paid off in mid-October when the Valencia native made the Florida Panthers out of training camp.
Making that achievement more impressive is Harper was 27 and starting his seventh pro season when it happened – an age when many players in this era are considered closer to the end than the beginning.
“There is not a guy that’s more deserving,” said Boston Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller, a lifelong friend of Harper’s. “This guy has worked so hard, so long. A lot of players would have gone to Europe a couple of years ago to make more money, but he kept grinding toward his dream.”
Harper finds himself playing an energy role on the Panthers’ fourth line, and glad to do it. He contributes speed, skill (he had a two-goal game against Colorado on Oct. 22) and plenty of toughness despite going 5-foot-11 and 193 pounds.
“I’ve never been afraid,” he said. “I’ve had fights here and there, but I’ve never looked to do that. I’ve always concentrated more on trying to put points up. Now I’m in a different role, but I’ll play wherever you want.”
Harper made that transition despite what his resume indicated. He had 80 goals in his final two seasons with the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League (WHL). He put up 22 goals and 45 points in 48 ECHL games one season and finished third in the American Hockey League (AHL) with 32 goals in 2014-15 for the Chicago Wolves.
Despite how long the NHL chance took to arrive, Harper didn’t doubt the day would come.
“I got in the gym pretty seriously once I was 16 and up in Everett,” he said. “I used to not be the fastest guy, but I’ve really improved my speed, which has helped me, especially today with how fast the game is.”
Jack Bowkus, Harper’s coach with the California Wave and his primary summer instructor, said the NHL opportunity is fitting.
“It couldn’t happen to a nicer kid, or one with a more impeccable work ethic,” Bowkus said. “He has worked so hard to get to where he’s at. His confidence and self-belief has been the biggest thing. He could have taken the easy way out, but he stuck with it and continued to believe.”
The years of work steeled Harper’s confidence in a game that rarely shows mercy.
“Sometimes, I felt like I can’t even get in the lineup in the AHL, how am I going to get called up?” he said. “Then there’s times when you feel so good in the AHL, in a groove where you feel like if I get called up, I could do this up there – it goes both ways.
“You have to believe in yourself, be positive, and just work through it. I kept working, kept plugging away. I just tried to improve every year and hoped for an opportunity.”
Harper thought that opportunity was coming last season.
“Two years ago when I lit it up with Chicago, I wasn’t on an NHL contract, so I really didn’t expect anything,” said Harper. “To sign another NHL deal with Florida last summer was huge. Last year, they told me that if I wouldn’t have gotten a high-ankle sprain and missed six weeks I would have been the first one called up.
“I probably would have got my first game last year, but it is pretty cool to get my first game and make the team out of camp. It makes it more special. I feel good. That’s why I felt this was the year.”
— Chris Bayee