Friday

Billy Harris

Billy Harris was a local kid who grew up idolizing the Leafs He was a star hockey player himself, coming up through the Marlies system, winning the Memorial Cup in 1954-55. He was part of an influx of young talent that would join the Leafs in the late 1950s who would help return the Leafs to glory, winning 4 Stanley Cups in the 1960s. Harris was a part of the first three.

Tall and thin, "Hinky" was a good skater and stickhandler, a real heady player. Early on he was counted on in an offensive role, but by the end of 1950s he would become a 3rd line utility player. Part of this was because he was a bit of a whipping boy for coach Punch Imlach. But the biggest reason was the incredible depth at center ice the Leafs enjoyed by the 1960s - Dave Keon and Red Kelly were undeniably the team's top two centers.

His ice time dwindled as the 1960s progressed, so he was moved from Toronto and started bouncing around the league  a bit. He went on to play briefly with the Canadian national team after his NHL days were done. This exposed him to international hockey and from there, he spent a year in Sweden coaching their national team, where he got a real appreciation of the European game, especially the Soviets. He was one of the few Canadians who were cautioning Canada's expectations when the NHL's pros first played the Soviets at the 1972 Summit Series.

Harris, who coached a number of WHA teams including the Toronto Toros, was selected to run the bench for the 1974 Summit Series, a WHA copycat tournament of the original.

Harris scored 134 goals and 229 assists in 769 NHL games with Toronto, Detroit, Oakland and Pittsburgh during a 14-year NHL career from 1956-69.

Harris, a very active member of the Leafs alumni association in later years, wrote a wonderful book - a mixture of Leafs history and personal autobiography, in 1989. The Glory Years: Memories of a Decade 1955-1965 is just a wonderful inside recollection of an amazing team with some amazing players.

Billy Harris died of leukemia in 2001. He was just 66 years old.

2 comments:

ryan 11:45 AM  

Billy Harris is a great player

Georgina Tuckwell 4:05 PM  

Billy Harris was a good steady player who was ruined by Punch Imlach. As it was he scored over 360 points in an era where scoring was low and did it with minimal ice time.

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