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Five-time Stanley Cup champion Harper highlights Playmakers tournament

Tournament wraps up Saturday at Pearkes Arena
Bear Mountain Bruins Pete Rose and Calgary Rusty Blades Gord Oakford try for a loose puck in Victoria Playmakers Tournament 75+ Division action at G.R. Pearkes Recreation Centre in Saanich on March 26, 2024. Thirty-nine teams of players from age 55 into their 80s are playing in the annual tournament. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

The last time Terry Harper skated in Victoria he was as a 21-year-old hopeful, who didn’t make the team, at the old Memorial Arena in the 1961 training camp of the Montreal Canadiens.

“I remember Henri Richard telling me he wanted to move out here.”

It would only be a matter of time before Harper cracked the Habs roster to join the likes of Richard and Jean Beliveau and win five Stanley Cups.

Sixty-three years after that training camp spin around Blanshard Street, Harper has returned to the B.C. capital as an 84-year-old skating in the Playmakers Oldtimers Hockey Tournament taking place at the Pearkes Arena.

To say a lot has happened in the intervening years would be the understatement of the Playmakers tournament. Harper won Stanley Cups in 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1971 with the Habs, captained the Los Angeles Kings and Detroit Red Wings and played in four all-star games in an NHL career from 1962 to 1981.

“It was a dream come true to play in Montreal for the Canadiens,” said the native of Regina.

But it comes with maybe the most pressure anywhere in hockey.

“The attention in Montreal was flattering but sometimes it got too much. I liked Los Angeles because you did not receive so much attention. You could go out with the family. No one knew who you were.”

Harper was known as the defenceman’s defenceman, the classic stay-at-home rearguard. Three goals in a season amusingly became known as the Harper Hat-Trick. But the value of a good defensive defenceman is that a goal thwarted from being scored against is as good as a goal scored. Retired to California, Harper has stayed active in the game through Oldtimers hockey.

“I’ve always wanted to keep in good physical condition and playing hockey is more exciting than working out in a gym,” he said, between games this week at Pearkes Arena.

This is his first Playmakers tournament and Harper said the drive up from California was worth it. He was placed on the Victoria Blooze team: “It’s a great bunch of people here in this tournament and we’ve been treated exceptionally.”

Thirty-nine teams of players from age 55 into their 80s, the latter such as Harper, are playing in the annual Playmakers Tournament. There are teams from across B.C. and Alberta, and as far as Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and even one from Japan. There is also a women’s division. Play began Tuesday and concludes today at Pearkes Arena.

“It sold out again and we believe it’s the best Oldtimers tournament in North America,” said Butch Boucher, a member of the organizing committee.