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Some day “Harley Thomas” might be a regular on the Dallas Stars blueline.
But for now, the teenager born as Thomas Harley before Stars owner Bob Gaglardi goofed by reading the name backwards when announcing the club’s first draft pick in 2019, will take a spot in the top four with Canada’s world U-20 junior team.
Harley, 19, grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., but plays for Canada because his orthopaedic surgeon father, Brian, and his pharmacist mother, Stephanie, were born in Edmonton. His dad played for the University of Alberta Golden Bears in the late 1980s and into the ’90s as he worked toward his medical degree.
“I know he was a goalie and he won a national championship,” said Harley.
Brian Harley, 52, who got a fellowship to Upstate Medical University in Syracuse in 2001 and stayed, does adult and child surgery on hands, wrists and elbows. Brian’s dad was also a surgeon here. As a player, Brian was part of a three-headed goalie rotation on the 1992 winning Bears team with later NHL defenceman Cory Cross.
The young Harley, a puck-moving defenceman who has 115 points in his last 117 games for the Mississauga Steelheads in the Ontario Hockey League, comes from a family where education is very important.
His brother, Stuart, is at the Milwaukee School of Engineering and his sister, Emilie, is majoring in biology and a hockey player at Robert Morris. Another brother, Greg, is in Toronto playing U-16 hockey for the same Vaughan Kings team Thomas played for.
Thomas thought of medicine when he was younger, but his love was hockey.
“As I got older, there was only one road for me,” said Harley, who has one year of OHL eligibility left if he doesn’t make the Stars.
His dad was his coach for eight years in Syracuse and early on, had one piece of advise.
“He told me not to play goal,” said Thomas, who spent one winter in midget hockey in Toronto before hooking up with Mississauga, but for the most part learned the game in the U.S.
“He knew I wanted to play in the NHL from a young age and there’s only 60 goalies in the best league in the world. With forwards, there’s 12 on every team, defencemen there’s six or seven. Not many more opportunities when you’re a goalie. I got my fill of playing goal in street hockey when I took one in the nether region. One of those orange plastic balls,” said Harley.
“I think I made the right decision,” said Harley, whose dad was a huge influence on him. “My dad taught me about 95 per cent of what I know about hockey. I’d sit down in the basement at night watching NHL games, we would be down there for hours.”
He was cut from last year’s selection camp along with Braden Schneider, Alex Newhook, Connor Zary and Dylan Holloway, all deemed too young. He likely will be partnered with Schneider (Brandon Wheat Kings, Rangers first-rounder) for these worlds. He admits he didn’t have a great 2019 camp but figured he had shown enough in the OHL.
“Hey, they won gold…they were doing something right,” he said.
When there was a knock on the door at camp, his stomach dropped.
“I was rooming with (Bowen) Byram. I figured it was for me, not him,” he said.
Thomas Harley theoretically could have been playing in this world junior at Rogers Place for USA with childhood buddy John Beecher, the Boston Bruins first-rounder, because he’s a dual citizen. But they weren’t interested in him when he wanted to play for the U.S. Development team program.
So, it’s O Canada , all the way.
“All our neighbours back home (in Syracuse) think we’re crazy. We put our flag up for Canada Day. We’re all Canadian down there. We celebrate both Thanksgivings,” said Harley, who was part of the Stars’ two-month bubble as one of their black aces getting into one game against Colorado in the round-robin portion of the NHL’s return to play.
How nervous was Harley to play against the Avalanche in early August?
“Very,” he said. “Playing your first game is nerve-wracking anyway but going against Colorado? They’re incredibly good.”
Harley got his shot because John Klingberg hurt his shoulder, playing nearly 11 minutes with Esa Lindell as a partner. He thought he ran around too much and was nowhere near as calm as he is in junior but the Avs are a tough baptism.
“I had played in a couple of pre-season (2019-20) games but it wasn’t even close. This was way faster, way more intense. It’s tough to explain how hard it was,” said Harley, who didn’t play again but was part of the bubble until the very end when Dallas lost in Game 6 to Tampa.
“Andrew Cogliano skated with us (black aces) for four days (scratched after an injury). You can see why he’s stuck around as long as he has and been as successful. He works like nobody else,” said Harley.
Harley would be working hard showing why he should be part of the 25-man world junior squad if the players weren’t in isolation in their Red Deer hotel rooms.
“It’s not their (Hockey Canada) fault,” he said. “It’s just COVID being annoying. Once we get through it, we will be closer.”
E-mail: [email protected]
On Twitter: @jimmathesonnhl
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