By Pat Murray
Randy Harris has breathed new life into the Niagara University men’s hockey team this season. And it’s because after three years of frustration, Harris can breathe again himself.
The 23-year-old graduate student is back playing hockey for the Purple Eagles after sitting out the last three seasons because of respiratory problems that had seemingly put an end to a promising career. But after surgery to clear his damaged nasal passages, Harris is back better than ever.
The Grand Island native leads NU in scoring with 10 points on four goals and six assists after six games. Not bad for any player, let alone for one who saw his production and playing time dwindle over his first three seasons as a result of the health problems.
“How many people get a second chance in life?” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder asked. “Just to have the passion and the desire to play and his overall passion for Niagara hockey and to pursue this opportunity the way he did is a great story.
“I don’t know if anyone thought he would be this big of a part of our team. He’s been our biggest surprise.”
Harris had a strong freshman campaign in the 1999-2000 season, finishing with 12 goals and nine assists in 41 games as Niagara won the College Hockey America regular-season and playoff titles before upsetting New Hampshire in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. He had 14 points in 30 games as a sophomore and 11 points in 22 games as a junior as he struggled with the effects of his respiratory problems. He failed to make the team as a senior, but at the time no one knew the reasons for his decline in
“It was really frustrating because I’ve had plenty of injuries before,” Harris said. “I’ve separated shoulders, I’ve broken bones, just like any other athlete who’s been through the ranks. But I couldn’t figure out what was going on with me. It was as frustrating a thing as I’ve ever gone through.”
Harris went to a number of doctors before finally being properly diagnosed.
“At first they thought I had asthma — which I did. I had developed it. It wasn’t something I was born with,” Harris said. “But that was only part of the problem. After things had gotten so frustrating, I saw some Harris, who admittedly hadn’t been the most conscientious athlete when it came to training in nutrition, has now started to take better care of his body.
“He has been an absolute professional in regards to nutrition and his fitness,” Burkholder said. “He did everything possible, and then some, to put himself in a position to succeed.”
Harris said he couldn't have done it by himself. He credited his fiancee, Crystal, for standing behind his decision to come back.
“I have to give my fiancee all the credit in the world for this. She’s the greatest support system I could ever ask for,” he said. “She was a good hockey player herself. She went to women’s Olympic camps. She loves hockey as much as I do. She was there 100 percent. She kinds of bestowed it upon me that I didn’t want any regrets. She said go for it and I said ’Thank You.’ ”
The return has rekindled Harris’ passion for the game, and he hopes to find a career in the sport.
“I love this sport and I think about it as much as anybody in this sport thinks about it. I want to be a professional hockey player. That’s my No. 1 goal,” he said. “There’s going to be a time when that comes to an end — whether it’s at the end of this year or 15 years from now. When that time comes, I want to be an elite level hockey coach, whether it’s at Division I or in the NHL.”
With that air of confidence about him, Harris has a good chance of succeeding.
Contact Pat Murray at (716) 282-2311, Ext. 2258.