Not many kids choose grinders as their favourite hockey player. Many fewer look up to those players enough to write a book about them later in life.
However, that's exactly what David Ward did. His book, The Lost 10-Point Night: Searching For My Hockey Hero, Jim Harrison, was published in September.
Ward, who is from Kitchener, Ont., grew up idolizing Jim Harrison.
Harrison had a very successful junior career with the Estevan Bruins from 1964-68, scoring 242 points in 178 regular season games. He dominated the 1968 Memorial Cup with 19 goals and 34 points in 14 games.
In the NHL, however, Harrison wasn't a star. He was more of a third-line type who totalled 153 points in 324 career games, mostly with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks.
"It is a funny thing because a lot of kids are drawn to the stars, but I was drawn to the plumbers, the third-line guys. The thing about Jim was he'd just as soon run over you as score a goal, and that appealed to me as a 12-year-old," said Ward, who recalls Harrison's bushy sideburns.
"He fought on behalf of smaller teammates, things like that. That's the kind of stuff that caught my attention."
However, Harrison's greatest career highlight came in the World Hockey Association with the Alberta Oilers in 1973.
On Jan. 30, in an 11-3 win over the New York Raiders, Harrison became the first player in pro hockey history to score 10 points in a game, with three goals and seven assists. It happened three years before Darryl Sittler's 10-point game with the Leafs.
"You think of all the professional games ever played. The Central Hockey League, the East Coast League, the Western Professional League, the International League, the American League. You think of all the leagues, all the games, over more than 100-plus years, and to think that only two guys ever scored 10 points in a single game, and they actually played on the same line together once upon a time. I think it's remarkable. So the fact that only one of those guys' games is remembered, I'm a little dumbfounded at the thought of it," Ward said.
However, giving attention to the 10-point game wasn't a major reason why Ward wanted to write about his childhood hero.
"When I went in search of Jim, even that 10-point game was just an afterthought for me. It was more about me searching out my childhood hero and a guy that I admired as a kid. And then as we talked and I tried to gather information on that game — I tried to gather it from him, I tried to gather it from guys he played with — that's when I started to realize how few people really remember that."
Much of the book looks back on Harrison's time in Estevan and the people he met along the way.
"A significant part of the book looks at Estevan because a junior career is such an influential time in a young boy's life, and Jim made friendships there that he continues to have to this day. He went back and coached there for a period of time. He had tremendous success there and there are still people he talks to who remember him," said Ward.
The author interviewed some of Harrison's old teammates, including Ross Lonsberry, John Chapman and Dale Hoganson.
"All those guys are there as well and they provide tremendous input into the book, and they all talk about their legendary coaches like Scotty Munroe and Ernie McLean. There's definitely a large component of the book that's Estevan-centred," Ward said.
When Ward got in touch with his childhood hero, Harrison didn't believe him at first that he was actually the author's favourite player.
However, Ward made a couple of visits to Harrison's home and stayed with him for eight days, talking to him about a number of things, including the fact he was one of many players defrauded by then union boss Alan Eagleson.
"He opens up really easily. He's got strong opinions about what he thinks has been unfair treatment in the past and he's not afraid to share them. The fact that Alan Eagleson ripped him off, he opened up about that, and then he opened up about his injuries as well, because he played a very physical game and suffered from tremendous injuries, and some less than adequate medical help. There's all kinds of different avenues that we went down, based on the challenges that he faced during his career and since his hockey career ended."
Ward said he wasn't sure what to expect when he found Harrison, now 67, noting that encounters with childhood heroes often end with disappointment. However, that wasn't the case this time.
"When you go in search of your childhood hero, you don't always know what you're going to find. It's not always an advisable thing to do because you may be disappointed with what you find. But what I've learned is he's actually a bigger hero to me today than he was when I was a child. That's not because he played hockey, but in spite of what hockey did to him, with his injuries and the money he lost as a result of some of the corruption in the game, things like that.
"He's actually a bigger hero to me today than he was then, and that's been a wonderful discovery."