There's bad news coming for UConn hockey opponents.
Brant Harris is getting better.
Over his three-year career, the Husky senior has established himself as a top scorer, leader, defensive presence and physical force for his team. Harris is the highest returning point scorer from last year’s team, thanks to a dominant second half when he posted 29 points in 24 games en route to the Atlantic Hockey Semifinals. For a second consecutive summer, the team captain was able to improve his game during an NHL development camp, spending a week in July with the San Jose Sharks.
After the conclusion of UConn’s 2012-13 campaign in late March, the Sharks extended an invitation to Harris to attend their summer camp
Since Harris did his best in-season to simply stay focused on his game, the invitation came as a bit of a surprise. “I knew head scouts of a few different teams were coming to watch me, but I didn’t want to pay too much attention to it,” he said. “I wanted to stay focused on what I had to do, especially in the playoffs.”
The match between San Jose and Harris was an excellent one.
“San Jose has a reputation for being really good at developing college players,” Harris said. Living proof of that development is Harris’ fellow countryman Rylan Schwartz, who signed with San Jose last April after leading the NCAA in scoring over his senior season at Colorado College. “I played against Rylan in junior hockey. We’re both from Saskatchewan actually, he lived about two hours from where I did,” said Harris.
Upon arriving one day before the camp started Harris began living with Dylan DeMelo, a sixth-round pick of the Sharks in 2011. DeMelo had just finished his final season with the Sharks minor league club in Worcester, Mass.
Unlike his previous camp experience in Washington, Harris spent less time engaged in scrimmages and more minutes on honing individual skills. The only scrimmage of the week came on Thursday, when Harris spent time on the first line alongside AHLers like Schwartz and fifth-round selection Freddie Hamilton. Despite being constantly surrounded by outstanding talent, Harris stayed focused on improving his own game. “I tried not to think about who I was playing against, I just wanted to focus on me and how I could get better,” Harris said.
Coaches throughout the Sharks organization led the camp, from the NHL level down to the ECHL.
“I talked with the coaches throughout the week,” Harris explained. “They were all very approachable. We talked about what they liked in my game and what they would like to see me tweak. They liked that I was light on my feet, how I controlled the puck down low. I felt I stuck out for a guy who wasn’t all that highly touted coming in.
“We focused on keeping my knees bent so I don’t lose power when I’m skating or making a move to the net. Staying in a low, athletic position in order to jump into a hole or make a move more quickly,”
At the end of the week, Harris left not only with improved physical skill, but a more well-rounded perspective. “I learned a lot about what I need to improve personally and about things in the game that you don’t necessarily look for or think about.”
Towards the end of the week, the Husky star was able to meet a few of the current Sharks players including Patrick Marleau, Brent Burns and Joe Thornton. “I still got a little star-struck. You don’t see those guys a lot, you have to take a step back and appreciate it,” Harris recalled.
The final meeting with the Sharks staff went well for Harris, as the Sharks staff lauded his speed, shot and ability to work down low and in corners. While Harris’ experience at Sharks camp differed from his time with the Capitals, there were valuable lessons in both formats. “I wouldn’t say one was better than the other. In Washington we spent a lot more time scrimmaging, in San Jose it was slower, more individualized, ” Harris remarked.
As Harris prepares to lead the Huskies in his final year in a UConn jersey, he now carries the lessons of two NHL camps with him; a rare feat for a college player who already wields a rare combination of skills.
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