OTTAWA Senators defenseman Ben Harpur is as Canadian as they come, but when he visits Australia to play in the Ice Hockey Classic next week, it will be a homecoming of sorts for the rising star.
Harpur is born and bred in Canada. He sounds Canadian too. He roots for the Blue Jays in MLB, and if we had to guess which beer he’d be cradling as he settles in front of the TV for the evening to watch Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final at his home in Niagara Falls, Ontario, our money would be on an ice cold Labatt Blue.
But the way he correctly pronounces Canberra — a surprisingly difficult task for those with a North American accent — tells a different story.
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Harpur has familial roots firmly set in Australia.
“My mum made sure [I can say ‘Canberra’ like a local],” Harpur said.
Harpur’s mother is originally from the ACT, and his father is Irish. His grandparents lived in Canada a bit before settling back in Canberra and he has an uncle who lives in Brisbane.
Harpur’s parents met in Canada where they raised a family, and a hockey-obsessed child that would go on to be a fourth-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft.
That was Harpur. And after a few years spent playing for the Binghamton Senators in the American Hockey League, this season the 22-year-old, 6-foot-6 defenseman finally got his NHL call-up with Ottawa.
“It was some of the craziest months of my hockey career,” Harpur said.
“I was called up from the minor league affiliate [Binghamton] with five games remaining in the NHL regular season. We were still fighting for a place in the playoffs, and those games down the stretch were really important.
“In the playoffs one of the Ottawa defensemen got hurt and I had the opportunity to get into the line-up and play some huge games at some great arenas. The whole experience was unbelievable.”
The Senators’ playoff run ended in the Eastern Conference Finals, losing the series against Pittsburgh 4-3. Harpur finished with a total of nine playoff games to his name with two assists.
Having heard of the Stop Concussions Foundation’s Ice Hockey Classic from some NHL players who went to last year’s event that featured ‘The Great One’ Wayne Gretzky, Harpur is now readying for his first major appearance donning the red Maple Leaf when Canada play the USA in Sydney and Melbourne.
“The last time I went to Australia was back in 2011, before my hockey career started getting serious. It’s been tough to find the time to go back.
“So this is a great opportunity to go back to Australia for a good cause.
“It was hard for me to say no.”
Harpur will have his mum watching in the stands for the Sydney game on June 18, and he extended his trip to spend some time in the nation’s capital catching up with the rest of his family.
As for what it means to be wearing Canada’s colours in, of all places, Australia, Harpur said the mentality doesn’t change — beat the USA.
“It’ll be cool to be able to showcase ice hockey to some people who maybe aren’t really familiar with it,” Harpur said.
“The only time I would have worn a Canadian jersey was at the world juniors, but outside of that, this will be the first time really representing Canada.
“There’s always been a healthy rivalry between Canada and the US, so I think there’ll be some healthy competition for sure.”
Sydney — Qudos Bank Arena: Saturday 17 June, 2017
Melbourne — Hisense Arena: Saturday 24 June, 2017