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Since 1917, more than 1,000 men have worn the Blue and White in Toronto’s NHL history. They’re part of a team that millions of Canadians grew up listening to, watching on TV or even seeing live, perhaps dreaming they could play for them one day.
Each has his own story, whether it was just one game or 20-plus seasons. Some won multiple Stanley Cups, others are part of the current 52-year drought. The Sun is profiling select Leafs and their experience in Toronto, today looking at Billy Harris, the 1980s-era winger.
BILL Y HARRIS
Born: Jan. 29, 1952 in Toronto
Position: Right wing
Leafs Years: 1981-84
Leafs Stats: 146 GP, 20-29-49, 44 PIM
A Toronto hockey ‘lifer’ whose minor days go back to playing in the Shopsy’s-sponsored system, Harris spent his last three junior seasons lighting it up with the Toronto Marlboroughs.
“I was part of the Willowdale boys, a group of future NHLers from that area, such as Mike Murphy, who all dreamed about playing for the Leafs,” Harris said. “The Shopsy’s team got to practise and play at the Gardens so it was very familiar to me.”
After a 57-goal year in 1971-72, part of a potent line will Steve Shutt and Dave Gardner that came close to 400 combined points, Harris was the first overall pick of the expansion New York Islanders, spending seven seasons there and another four with the Los Angeles Kings. He returned to Toronto in the 1981 trade for disgruntled defenceman Ian Turnbull. Harris played three seasons for Toronto, but the homecoming was bittersweet.
“Harold Ballard, Guy Kinnear the trainer, all the people I’d known from the Gardens, they all came to welcome me. Then I saw how poorly the organization was run. The first time I saw a scouting report on an opposing team it looked like a Grade 5 student had drawn it up. I’d come from years of playing under Al Arbour on the Island, one of the most organized coaches in the game. And (the Leafs) were asking me ‘how did Al run his practices?’
“It’s like the old saying, the trouble starts at the top (with Ballard)”.
Initially, Harris was in the bar business, running Harry O’s in Manhattan Beach, Cal., a favourite haunt of the Kings, Dodgers and other L.A. sports personalities. He had a less successful venture next to Nationwide Arena when the Columbus Blue Jackets were born in 2000.
Then Harris saw the light, so to speak, with the Rosseau, Ont.-based Muskoka Candle Company,
‘From hockey sticks to candle wicks’ was Harris’s company motto, which he has been associated with about 15 years. His investment was quite by accident.
“A young man came to my door selling them one day. I noticed regular candles were turning my ceiling black, but he showed me these were made with natural soybean wax (without petroleum additives). I thought it could be something.
“We used a bunch of coffee makers at first (in the extraction process), sold more candles to farmer’s markets and places like that. I built a shed, then a bigger house and the next thing you know we had two giant vats and were turning out 200 to 300 a day. We have a lot of customers all over the country.”
Harris recently turned much of the business operation over to a partner. He still hangs with some Leaf alumni such as Doug Favell, and is active with the Islanders oldtimers as well. Stepping back from the candle company has given him more opportunity for travel and free time in the Muskokas.
“They’ve invited me down to be in the Leaf alumni box, but I’m spoiled,” he laughed. “If it’s bad weather, I stay in and watch TV.”
BEST LEAF MEMORY : “I wish my time there was a better one for the team, but at least I could say I came back to see all the people I’d known as a kid, such as Sam the Zamboni driver and Banana Joe Lamantia, the penalty time keeper. They were as well known to me as anyone at the Gardens.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020