Bigger and Boulder
Walker Harris grew up playing in the Boulder Valley Youth Hockey Association (BVYHA), and hasn’t had to travel far to get his first taste of the junior game.
Last season, Harris played 10 games for the then-named Boulder Bison of the Western States Hockey League (WSHL), and this year is a key contributor as a high-end forward for the renamed Colorado RoughRiders.
“I come from a hockey-playing family, so my dad (Geoff) taught me how to skate before I could walk,” said Harris.
The 18-year-old Boulder native is what RoughRiders coach and general manager Paul DePuydt calls “the type of player every team would love to have.”
“Walker is very intelligent, on and off the ice,” said DePuydt. “He has a lot of charisma and brings a positive energy to the rink with him all the time.
“He leads by example and can play in all situations. He’s a 200-foot player; he’s good through all three zones. He can be a defensive specialist when need be, and brings plenty of offense to the team, too.”
After his cup of coffee with the Bison in 2013-14, Harris got a feel for the competitiveness and level of talent in WSHL.
He entered this season ready for full-time duty, improving on his skating – specifically his stride and speed – over the summer in an effort to be an impact player right off the bat.
And he couldn’t be happier doing it in his own backyard.
“It’s awesome playing in my hometown,” said Harris. “It makes for a smooth transition going from youth hockey to juniors.
“It also allows me to finish high school where I started, and I get to play home games in front of my friends and family, which is pretty neat.”
Harris started playing for the Bison organization when it was the BVYHA in 2000 and says that, without the organization’s support, encouragement and knack for properly developing players, he wouldn’t be where he is today.
“Jimmy Dexter has been one of my coaches since Squirts, and he’s taught me a lot about playing the game the right way as well the skills you need to become a better player,” said Harris.
“I think it’s very important to have local kids playing for this organization; it’s great for the younger kids to have some role models and some older guys to look up to.”
Having a roster loaded with good friends has done wonders for the RoughRiders’ chemistry this season, according to Harris.
“It’s great,” Harris said. “Most of us have either played with or against each other in years past, so we all knew a lot about each other before the season even started.”
Last year, Harris tallied six goals and three assists in his brief WSHL stint. Through 34 games this season, he struck for a team-best 38 points on 17 goals.
Strong individual stats aside, Harris says helping the team experience success is the first and foremost priority.
“I’m very excited for the rest of the season and to see where this team can go,” Harris said. “We’re young, but we have tons of talent and definitely can make some noise. I don’t see why we can’t win the Mountain Division and make a deep run into the Thorne Cup Playoffs.”
In the coming years, Harris wants nothing more than to use his skills and hockey sense to crack the lineup of a higher-level junior or college team. He also knows he needs to bulk up his 5-foot-10, 170-pound frame.
“I think he has the ability to advance to the next level of junior hockey, and will definitely play NCAA hockey,” said DePuydt.
“I just want to keep working hard the rest of the season and continue to improve,” said Harris. “Everything else will take care of itself.”
– Matt Mackinder