Shooting The Breeze With Terry Harper

Terry Harper, with arm raised, celebrates sweet victory with Henri Richard, Jean Beliveau and coach Toe Blake.
Terry Harper, with arm raised, celebrates sweet victory with Henri Richard, Jean Beliveau and coach Toe Blake.

He played during a time of legends, when Gordie Howe, Jean Beliveau and Bobby Hull roamed the ice; when Jacques Plante, Terry Sawchuk and Glenn Hall stopped pucks; and when Toe Blake and Punch Imlach pulled strings from behind the bench.

He’s Terry Harper, the lanky, stay-at-home defenceman for the Montreal Canadiens from 1963 to 1971, and I spoke with him on the telephone a short while ago. He’s a nice man, this 69 year old, lives in California with his wife Gladys, who was just as nice and friendly as Terry, (the two have been together since high school in Regina), and Terry was perfectly happy to talk to me about the old days and even hockey today. He even showed interest in my life, asking about places I’ve lived and live now.  And he felt bad for me when I told him Sam Pollock turned me down when I asked to be stickboy way back then. “I understand Sam’s reasoning,” he laughed. “Imagine how something like that could get out of control?”

“You caught me at a good time,” he said.  And he also added, “if someone is still interested in what I have to say after 40 years, then I’m completely fine with it.” 

Gordie Howe was the best he’s ever seen, he says. “Howe just dominated the game in every aspect, and he did so for so long. He did everything right.” But what about Bobby Orr? I asked.  “Orr was fantastic but he didn’t play long enough,” he explained. “He played a transition game with his skating, which was fantastic, but for me he wasn’t even the best defenceman. Doug Harvey is the best ever. For pure defence, it’s Harvey. No one’s been better.”

Jean Beliveau? “He’s a good friend, a super person. He’s one of those who stayed with the team even today, and is a wonderful man and great for hockey.”

Toe Blake? “I really liked and admired Toe. A really thoughtful man, a deep-thinker. And I think the best coach ever.”

Sam Pollock? “Sam liked me. I was his captain for the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens and we got along well. He was a great hockey mind.”

And the game today compared to then? “Players are certainly bigger now. When I played, Jacques Laperriere, Ted Harris and myself were considered huge because players back then weren’t overly big like most are now. Even my first defence partner, Jean-Guy Talbot wasn’t big. We were a new breed.”

“Guys now don’t have harder shots than many back then. A puck can only go so fast. Bobby Hull could get up to about 105 mph, and I don’t think there’s too many who can shoot harder than that. I also don’t think players are faster now either. It’s pretty hard to imagine anyone quicker than Ralph Backstrom or Dave Keon, for example. And don’t forget, equipment now must be 15 pounds lighter at least. Same with the goalies. More pads and lighter overall.”

“Because it was only a six-team league, everyone knew everyone completely. There were no surprises. It was so tight-checking, teams weren’t allowed to make a mistake or a goal would be scored. It was more like a chess match back then. And I think players now probably have the wrong attitude. It’s mostly just about money but where would they be without the fans? It’s the fans who make them. Like you. There’s seems to be no interaction anymore between fans and players.”

Do you still have any of your old Habs sweaters, Terry? “We weren’t allowed to keep those,” he said. “The trainers were strict about that. We always had to hand them in.” (He was surprised when I told him his old number 19 would fetch thousands at auction now.)

And one last thing, does he follow the Habs at all now. “I don’t know the team, but I look at the standings in the paper. We don’t get a lot of hockey news here, especially about the Canadiens. We go down to San Jose from time to time to see the Sharks, and we used to make a point of going when Montreal was in town, but the way it is now, there’s years when they don’t even come. So we just go, usually around February when it’s getting important, and it could be any team visiting.”

After Harper’s days in Montreal came to an end, he joined the LA Kings and also did stints in Detroit, St. Louis, and the Colorado Rockies before calling it quits in 1981. He played a total of 19 seasons in the NHL, which is a big-time career, and is now a 69 year old stay-at-home defenceman in his local beer league.

You can read more about Terry Harper at Joe Pelletier’s site right here.

Terry, winning another of his five Stanley Cups in Montreal
Terry, winning another of his five Stanley Cups in Montreal


Harper and Jacques Laperriere take to the ice for a scrimmage at the Forum.
Harper and Jacques Laperriere take to the ice for a scrimmage at the Forum.

18 thoughts on “Shooting The Breeze With Terry Harper”

  1. Good post dennis. I like how the old guys defend their era of hockey the way they do. There’s not enough people now-a-days that give those guys the credit they deserve. Although saying the guys of the 50’s and 60’s shoot as hard as the guys now might be a little bit of a stretch, I agree there was a few players back then that shoot as hard as the players of today but on average I dont think there is any comparison, and alot of that has to do with the advances in equipment. On the topic of Bobby Orr not being the best player ever, let alone the best D-man ( in Mr. Harpers opinion) I wonder what are fellow blogger Blaine thinks of that.

  2. Thanks Jordy. I haven’t seen Blaine on here for awhile now. I’d be curious too what he thinks.
    And yes, in general, players might do thing better but Terry made some good points.

  3. Good article Dennis,I remember watching Terry play with the Habs.He reminded me of Larry Robinson,but liked to stay around his own net.He would never back down from a tussle and cleared the front of the crease very well.I liked Terry Harper,I remember him going to L.A. and being joined by Rogie Vachon the next year I believe,he was my favorite goaltender back then.I used to have his autograph but it got lost over the years.

  4. Thanks Derry.
    Harper was a solid guy for the Habs. He and Laperriere and Ted Harris were huge for those days and made the Habs a tough team. I’ve wondered where Harper was for years and found him recently. He told me Ted Harris lives near Philadelphia.

  5. Jordy, I refer to an earlier post I submitted, if not for Doug Harvey would Bobby Orr turn out to be the D-Man he became ???
    Les Canadiens Toujour !!!

  6. now there was a tough hockey player,when I was a kid I was always wondering who he was going to get into a scrap with.Good to hear that he is doing well,any idea where Rogie Vachon is these days

  7. That’s some powerful mojo you have there. Can you share some of it and have Lafleur give me a call?

    Harper had a lot of good and interesting stuff to say about the game and the players. But I think his memory is exaggerating the speed of the players and their shots. Unfortunately there are no good reliable records from then. I have a hard time believing Hull’s 105 mph, let alone the reports of 118 mph. People, technology and training are much better. Records are meant to be broken. This is mere days after Bolt shattered the 100 m record and weeks after the swimming book was completely rewritten.

  8. Christopher, I might have to summon John Ferguson from The Great Penalty Box In The Sky to come down and pay you a visit. He might make you an offer you can’t refuse.

  9. lol, harper lost me when he called howe the best ever; when I think of gordie, I think of a bully who suddenly stopped being the best player on the ice when he couldn’t push his opponent around

    in any case, no one has ever accused (most) old-time hockey players of being rocket scientists

    btw, not a word about the wayner in this article; apparently, Jordy, Terry Harper isn’t a fan of one-way performers, either 🙂

  10. Blaine! You’re back! Hi!
    Glenn Hall told me once when he was in town for the Allan Cup that Gordie Howe was the best he ever saw and played against. The thing about Howe that you might be missing (and don’t get me wrong, I never liked him and much preferred the Rocket and Bobby Orr) is all the things he could well. Not only did he have brute strength but also a great shot, great passer, great fighter, smart, ambidexterous,and always dangerous. I heard once that he could stand at his goal line and wrist a shot into the stands at the other end. I can understand why many of these older guys say these things about Howe. He just wasn’t my cup of tea, that’s all.

  11. Blaine;Exactly my feelings,although Gretzky a had a third sense for hockey,he was a one way performer as you have said,Orr could do it all.He played at both ends making him the best there ever was.

  12. Hi Dennis

    Like the story of Terry Harper. Hope you do not mine my putting it on the Regina Pats Alumni WebSite.

    Would love to have his phone number, so I can phone him. You will notice I have a listing of all Ex-Regina Pats and his is one that I do not have: address or phone number.

    Ron “Scoreboard” Johnston

  13. Terry, I played an exhibition game against you and the Pats back in the late 50’s when I attended Mathieu College in Gravelbourg.
    The following year I took a couple of classmates, while attending Ottawa University Law School, to a Hull-Ottawa game where we ‘gave you the gears’ in a friendly banter while you came off the ice between periods. I just had to try to contact you after our grandson wanted to know if I’d ever played against some ‘great’ NHL players. Naturally I had to mention you, since you checked me over the boards and into the second row of the bleachers in that game we played in Regina. Nice reading about you. Orville Amyotte

  14. Good gracious, I played in an exhibition game in Regina against Terry Harper and the Pats when I attended Mathieu College in Gravelbourg in the late 50s. The following year I took a clique of my law school buddies at Ottawa U to watch him play with the Ottawa – Hull Canadians. A very nice guy indeed.

  15. That’s awesome, Orville. A real nice guy, and I’ll bet he was great in junior. And I’m guessing he was already pretty tall and lanky back then. Did you guys beat them?

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