SUMMERSIDE - While most of the team is still home in bed, Harrison McIver is on the ice with a handful of UPEI Panther teammates for the optional morning skate.
Although it is hardly anything more than general skating with pucks and sticks, McIver doesn’t skip it, or take it lightly.
While others are drifting around, McIver and another teammate are off to one side, practising faceoffs.
Hard work is something that’s become synonymous with the McIver family name.
His older brother, Nathan, has managed to make a career out of hockey as a gritty stay-at-home defenceman. The Summerside native has made a successful minor league career, and has also appeared in 36 NHL games.
His first cousin, Brett Gallant, was recently signed to his first NHL contract, a two-way deal with the New York Islanders.
The two cousins play side-by-side with the Islanders’ American Hockey League team, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. A testament to their hard work and gritty play, they’ve combined for close to 400 penalty minutes.
While Harrison acknowledges he didn’t inherit the same stature or aggression of his two family members, the work ethic didn’t go astray.
“The CARI Complex is pretty well my second home,” McIver said. “I’m there all the time. I work with Andrews Hockey School, so I stay on the ice there all summer too.”
McIver, a former captain of the Summerside Western Capitals, took an unconventional route to UPEI as most of his teammates have major junior experience.
“Most people don’t take the junior A route,” he said. “I did it a little differently, so there were a lot of adjustments for me. But it’s getting better with every game.”
Last season, the 5’11” centre posted four goals and seven assists, playing a checking and penalty-killing role in his rookie season.
McIver’s play on the ice might not grab attention right away, but his work ethic makes him a vital part of the team, said head coach Forbes MacPherson.
“Harry is the ultimate competitor,” MacPherson said. “To use brief one-word descriptions, ‘He’s a warrior.’”
MacPherson said they became interested in McIver after he captained the Caps to a league title in 2010-11. He was also a member of the 2008-09 team that won the Fred Page Cup as the top junior A team in EasternCanada.
“He has a history of winning a lot. There are some guys that just play on that edge with all kinds of sandpaper, and know how to win. He’s one of those guys.”
While his play on the ice might not rack up league-leading numbers, his work in the classroom is another story.
Last season, McIver was a CIS All-Canadian Academic All Star. The award recognizes CIS athletes who hold an average of 80 per cent or higher.
While the majority of his teammates are enrolled in arts or business courses (“lighter loads,” he jokes), McIver has been working towards a bachelor of science degree for the last five years, balancing his studies with hockey going back to his Western Capitals’ days.
Set to graduate this spring with a double major in biology and psychology, McIver has big plans for the future.
He plans to stay at UPEI next season, taking additional courses and playing with the Panthers. After that, McIver has his sights set on grad school.
“I want to do physiotherapy at Dalhousie,” he added. “It’s a competitive program, tough to get into, especially for away students. Hopefully being a student athlete and having some good grades will help me out.”
With five members of this year’s team being All-Canadian Academic standouts last season, any “dumb jock” stereotype should be forgotten when it comes to university athletes, McIver said.
“The stereotype of being an athlete should be shunned as soon as you’re a student athlete. If anything the stereotype should be that we’re more responsible and more diligent to balance both time commitments, and some people excel at both.”
The Panthers host the St. Francis Xavier X-Men in Game 2 of the best-of-three quarter-final series at MacLauchlan Arena on Friday. Gametime is 7 p.m., and the Panthers won the opener in Antigonish, N.S., 4-3 onWednesday night.