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From the Stands: Big Ben got his start up front

From the Stands
By Paul Osborne

It is hard to miss him on the ice, yet at the same time his consistent, steady play often goes unnoticed. Guelph Storm defenceman Ben Harpur stands about 6-foot-8 in his skates and weighs in at over 210 pounds.

He has the wingspan of an albatross but he is anything but a burden to his team.

Storm vice-president and general manager Mike Kelly took a chance when he drafted Harpur with the first pick in the third round of the 2011 Ontario Hockey League draft.

Harpur had been a forward his entire life, but as fate would have it, his Niagara Falls minor midget team had a lot of injuries one tournament so the coach moved him back to defence.

That changed everything.

Kelly saw him play and recognized the raw talent that lurked below the surface and stepped up to take him, knowing he’d be a bit of a long term project.

Now Harpur would play in any team’s top four defencemen in the OHL.

“I just saw an awful lot of coordination between his hands and his feet for such a big kid,” remembered Kelly.

“Not that he was dominant, but there were not may 6-foot-4 kids (at that time) that had their skating and their hands working together at the same time. A few times he grabbed the puck and went up ice with it so you could see then he had some abilities that not everyone possesses.”

Harpur didn’t play a lot in his first season as a 16-year-old and then last year was allowed to learn on the job.

As you can imagine there were some “hold your breath moments” but it wasn’t long before you could see what he could become. This year he has blossomed into that shutdown defenceman every team needs to be successful.

“With the coaching I’ve received here in Guelph it feels like I’ve played defence my whole life,” said Harpur.

“I’m a lot stronger now and I think I’ve really improved my mental toughness. The first two years in the league, if I got scored on I would dwell on my mistake and it affected me the rest of the game. Now if I make a mistake, I can shake it off and be ready to go on the next shift.”

“I believe he will be a top 10 defenceman in the league next year and a player the national junior team program will have to look at,” said Kelly. “His skating is quite exceptional for a guy that big.  It’s deceiving.”

The Niagara-on-the-Lake native has been playing with Phil Baltisberger and the pairing has proven to be very efficient. Harpur is +32 on the season with Baltisberger at +22.

“We both play a similar game,” said Harpur.

“Neither of us is very flashy offensively but we play hard and we communicate well and we know where each other will be all the time and that allows us to get out of the zone easily.”

Harpur has 16 points on the season and says he still loves to lug the puck up ice but he knows that his role is to keep the puck out of his net.

With offensive defencemen like Matt Finn, Zac Leslie and Nick Ebert already on the team, he can concentrate on his own end.

“I see myself as the guy they look at to handle the defensive side of things first,” said Harpur. “I take pride in that.”

From the Land of Oz . . . The Storm saw their nine-game winning streak come to an end with a 3-1 loss in Windsor Saturday night. They were up 1-0 with about eight minutes to go when Leslie tripped on a broken stick giving the Windsor player a clear path to the net. That bad break gave the Spitfires the momentum they never relinquished . . . Friday night the Storm pounded Sarnia 6-1 . . . The Storm plays in Kitchener tonight before hosting Mississauga and Belleville Thursday and Friday, respectively.

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