A little home cooking, some familiar surroundings, and a dash of “third time’s the charm” — for Pittsburgh Penguins’ defender Scott Harrington, a return to his junior roots may be just the launching pad he needs to take a shot at cracking the NHL club’s roster.
Harrington spent his junior career playing for the London Knights, playing in the Budweiser Gardens (nee John Labatt Centre). For the third straight year, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ rookie tournament has been held in London, ON and Harrington’s been a part of it each year. He’s looking at his long-term familiarity with the arena as an advantage that he wants to exploit.
“I think that sometimes if you’re in a building that you’re not familiar with it can take a little bit of getting used to — maybe the puck bounces, the this and that. But obviously I’ve played in this building so much that I feel right at home out there,” Harrington explained. “Whenever you’re in situations where there are a lot of eyes on you and maybe a little bit more pressure than usual, it’s nice whenever you can have a little — I don’t know if you want to say advantage — but something that you’re familiar with.”
Harrington spent his first full professional season last year with the Penguins’ AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The 2011 second-round selection had a solid season, scoring five goals and adding 19 assists in 76 games. The defensively sound rearguard finished the year with a +9 rating.
Following the season, he decided to make his full-time home back in the Forest City. And that’s come with the advantage of training with members of the extended London Knights’ family — a group of former Knights who get together to practice at the Budweiser Gardens.
“It’s great. I love coming back to London. Actually, I just moved back this summer to train and to skate. It’s such a beautiful building and a great town,” he said. “There’s quite a few pros that come back and skate here during the summer. Not all the guys work out together off the ice, but being that there’s such a great group of guys, we’ve been skating here the last month or two. It’s been great.”
And even at this tournament, he’s seeing some familiar faces.
“It’s always great to come back and see some of the guys you played with [at this moment, one of the Rupert twins, prepping for the evening game with the Leafs, peers over my shoulder and starts trying to get Harrington to laugh]. But it’s good,” he said. “It makes it special, especially seeing as we enjoyed so much team success here in London. I couldn’t have enjoyed my time here any more, coming back and seeing some of the old coaches and the players you spent those years with.”
Harrington’s always been known as a leader throughout his junior career, both with the Knights and as a two-time participant with Canada’s World Junior Championship squad. As a pro, he feels he’s hitting his stride in that department, especially in his third year at this rookie camp.
“I think that every year you’re in it, you’re a year older and a year more experienced. Personally, for myself, after playing a year of pro, I feel a lot more comfortable in this tournament,” he said. “And then you take on a bit more of a leadership role, I guess. I remember my first camp I was so wide-eyed and it was all so new and so fresh to me. Now it’s hard to believe that I’m one of the older guys.
“But having said that I think it’s important for us to make the younger guys feel as comfortable as we can so that they can play their best. I remember the older guys were great to me during my first one and it translated on the ice.”
So how does one become a leader? Or assume the mantle? For Harrington, it’s all about being the player you are.
“I just try to be myself. I don’t think you go into a situation with the mindset that you want to be a leader and you’re going to try to force that,” he explained. “You just be yourself and if you have the personality that they think has some leadership, then that’s great, but I just try to be myself and help the younger guys out. It’s good for us to pass that on to the younger guys, and, I guess, in some way be a leader yourself.”
It’s always a big jump from the junior ranks to the pros and Harrington said it took some time to adjust.
“The biggest difference? It’s probably just the old cliche: guys are bigger, faster, stronger. I know that’s what everybody says, but that’s really the difference,” he said. “You have less time with the puck, you have to know what you’re doing with it before you get it. It’s tougher in the corners, being a defenseman, moving some of the bigger guys because they are men and not 16, 17-year-olds.
“Everyone’s just quicker. They’re better players and better skaters. That takes some getting used to in the first quarter or half of the season in pro. Once you get used to that you can kind of try and implement the aspects of your game that got you there and try and keep getting better every day and every game.”
For this tournament — and heading into the main camp — Harrington said he wants to show he’s been listening, applying his lessons, and growing as a player.
“I think being that there is the coaching staff and the management here, I just want to put my best foot forward and show them that I had a good summer and worked on the things that they wanted me to,” he said. “I want to show them I’m ready for camp and leave the decision in their hands, but try to make it as difficult for them as I can.”
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