Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Q & A with Paul Harrison

Last week, I wrote about the last Stanley Cup final featuring the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens. The year was 1967.

Paul Harrison
The final time these two historical franchises met in playoff competition was in 1979. The Leafs and Habs tangled in a best-of-seven quarter-final series. The starting netminders in the final game were Ken Dryden for Montreal and Paul Harrison for Toronto.

Paul Harrison, a native of Timmins, Ontario, played his Junior hockey in southern Ontario with the Oshawa Generals. His first taste of pro hockey came in the 1975-76 campaign. On October 11, 1975, Harrison participated in his first National Hockey League game. With Philadelphia visiting Minnesota, Harrison started in goal for the North Stars. The Flyers were defending Stanley Cup champions - talk about being thrown into the fire!

The twenty year-old goalkeeper gave up his first NHL goal at 2:56 of period one. The goal scorer was Rick MacLeish. Philadelphia cruised to a 9-5 victory, with Harrison facing 36 shots.

Harrison played in a total of 109 regular season contests. He posted a 28-59-9 record (4.22 Average),  with two shutouts. In the playoffs, he got into four games (157 minutes) going 0-1 (3.44 Average).

Paul Harrison was kind enough to participate in a Q & A session with Hockey Then & Now.

Who was your favourite player when you were a youngster?

 I adored Terry Sawchuk and Glenn Hall growing up and tried to copy all their moves on the outdoor rinks.

Which team was your favourite?

 The Blackhawks were my team mostly because of Glenn Hall and later Tony "O".

What was the highlight of your first game?

 My first game was in in 1975 in Minnesota against the defending champion Philly Flyers. No highlights here! I got spanked 9-5. I was totally overwhelmed by being on the same ice surface as Bernie Parent and Bobby Clarke.

Who was the coach that had the greatest influence on your career?

 Roger Neilson was the best. Being an old goaltender himself, his drills were always built around the goaltenders needs and ran with high intensity. He would keep you involved in the game even if you weren't playing, by keeping stats and looking for weaknesses in the opposing goalie.

Who was the teammate you enjoyed playing with the most?

 Mike Palmateer was the most exciting goaltender that I have ever seen. He was great on and off the ice as a teammate and friend. I believe we worked well together by pushing ourselves to improve with the focus always on the team and winning.

Who was the toughest player you played against?

 Jacques Lemaire always seemed to score the big goals for Montreal and was a fierce competitor. By the time I got to play against Bobby Orr, his knees were bad. I played a few games against Wayne, but retired before he really could put up big numbers against me.

What was the major highlight of your career?

  Playing the last game ever played between the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Stanley Cup playoffs. We lost 5-4 in overtime.

What do think of today's game?

 I love the speed and skill of today's NHL. The goaltenders remind me a lot of the old table hockey goalies, who block shots by moving around the crease in a very controlled motion. I still love the butterfly, agile, goalies like Thomas and Luongo.

What have you been up to since you hung-up your skates for good?

 I will be starting my 28th year in policing with the OPP in September and primarily work in drug prevention. I also work with Ontario minor hockey programs helping them to fund raise via the NHL Alumni Hockey Dream Draw. Check out for more info.


Of note, is Harrison's reference to the 1979 quarter-final series against Montreal.

With Montreal holding a commanding 3-0 series lead, game four was played in Maple Leaf Gardens on April 22, 1979. In the previous contest, Toronto's starting goalie, Mike Palmateer, suffered a serious injury to his left arm. Although he was able to finish the game (a 4-3 loss in O/T), surgery was required the following day. His services were lost for the remainder of the playoffs.

Paul Harrison got the nod for game four, as his club was one defeat away from elimination.

In his game report for the Toronto Star, Hall of Fame journalist Frank Orr described Harrison's performance.

Harrison delivered a stellar game of goaltending for the Leafs and, with two seconds to play in regulation time, made a one-a-season save on Canadiens' sniper Jacques Lemaire.
 Lemaire drove a a 20-foot blast past the Leaf goalie's pad but Harrison snapped it off with his glove. The Leaf bench cleared to congratulate the goalie.

The Maple Leafs lost to the Habs 5-4 in overtime. The Canadiens scored on a power play, when Tiger Williams was assessed a high-sticking penalty against Larry Robinson. As is often the case in situations of this nature, Robinson scored the winning tally at 4:14 of overtime.

After the game, came this quote from Canadiens coach Scotty Bowman. "I've been in hockey a long time but I don't think I've ever seen a better stop," Bowman told the gathering of media concerning Harrison's stop on Lemaire.

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