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Peeling away the Layers

It has been two weeks since the Wayne Simmonds banana-throwing incident. Almost everyone has said something about it, except me. There has been a lot of talk about it at the National Hockey League level and various in the OHL. I wanted my chance to talk to someone about it; hear the opinions for myself.

There are a number of new faces on the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors this year. One young player on the team caught my attention. OHL rookie Junior Harris.

Coming in as a walk-on this year, I knew little about him, so I set out to learn more. The 19-year-old played nine games in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last year with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies where he earned one goal and one assist. The rest of the season was spent down in the Ontario Junior Hockey League with the Villanova Knights.

After being cut from the Moncton Wildcats of the Q during camp, the Aurora, Ont. native received a call from Majors head coach and general manager James Boyd; the team suffered some injuries and needed Harris to come out and show them his skills. So far, so good, according to Harris. He earned an assist in Mississauga’s first exhibition tilt and two goals in five games to start the season.

Interestingly, I discovered that Harris works out with Simmonds during the offseason. And, as of recently, we all know what is associated with Simmonds when his name is mentioned. Hopefully the memories will fade and the Philadelphia Flyers winger will be recognized once again for being a great hockey player.

Harris, whose mother is Italian and father Jamaican, had a lot of honest and respectful things to say regarding the incident in London, and I couldn’t wait to sit down and hear about it. I got a chance to chat with him Tuesday after Majors practice.

“I saw my buddy Chris Stewart’s (St. Louis Blues) tweet about it and I didn’t really know what it was about until I turned on TSN and there was a huge story on it,” Harris said outside the locker room. “I thought it wasn’t true, but I saw it and it’s sad to see how people still are to this day.”

Although he hasn’t seen him yet, it’s only a matter of time before Harris bumps into Simmonds and by then it might be all but forgotten. This is most likely something a lot of ethnic groups face growing up. However, the Greater Toronto Area is so multicultural, it leads one to question where it stems from.

Harris hasn’t been through anything like this, but he surrounds himself with guys who experienced types of segregation before.

“The founder of our gym grew up with [Simmonds] and Chris Stewart. They’ve been through it all and they try to help me out. It’s different for black hockey players because it’s pretty much a white guy’s game, but you can’t think about it like that. You’ve just got to think about it like you’re another player out there.

“It’s sad this day and age this nonsense still occurs, but it makes me proud to see how professional [Simmonds] was about the situation. You can’t let other people’s ignorance change who we are inside. Just stay true to ourselves and our goals.”

Needless to say, Harris has a lot of support around him, but there’s one support powerhouse that’s missing from the lineup.

“I grew up playing with Devante Smith-Pelly. We played soccer together for a number of years and we played [hockey] against each other. He was always on the [Toronto Junior] Canadiens, our rivals. I was on the Red Wings. So we know each other quite well.

“I haven’t talked to Devante yet,” Harris said, then paused as he reminded himself to tweet Smith-Pelly after our interview. “I’m happy to see how everyone sticks together on it and how we all supported [Simmonds] through this tough time.”

I brought to Harris’ attention something he hadn’t initially thought of. I’ve heard the trickling down theory before; what happens in the NHL seems to find its way to the OHL, especially recently with all the head shots.

Well, the incident happened at the John Labatt Centre in London. Yes, it was a NHL preseason game, but would it be wrong to assume that some Knights season ticket holders were there? I could argue that the effect is actually trickling upward.

“It’s really tough seeing that especially because we play London a lot. I think going in that rink, it will be in the back of my mind, but I didn’t even really think about that.

“For sure I thought that could happen to me. It could happen to Devo (Smith-Pelly), Evander [Kane], it could happen to any one of us, but you’ve just got to put that away in your mind and you’re here to do a job, you’re here to play a game and you just can’t think of stuff like that.

“I’m happy with the way [Simmonds] took it and he didn’t blow it out of proportion…oh and I’m happy he scored on the play.”

It seems as though with every step forward we take in society, there are two steps back. And it’s not always a racism issue. As a female journalist trying to make it in a male-dominated industry, I can understand some of these matters. I would never use it as a crutch, but I’d be lying if I said the issue doesn’t exist.

As for Junior Harris, he seems like a solid young hockey player with a good head on his shoulders. Let’s hope he can take it with him after his career in the OHL.

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