‘…And then I just started crying’
Harkins' first NHL call-up brings tears to a proud dad's eyes
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/12/2019 (1141 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Todd Harkins didn’t foresee a clear path to hockey’s promised land for his middle son, Jansen.
Overcoming obstacles through determination and perseverance is, indeed, the family way.
So, there was no shame — nor should there have been — in his voice as he explained how he received the news of Jansen’s promotion Wednesday to the Winnipeg Jets.
“I got a voice mail when I was in the air between Vancouver and Toronto, and listened to it when we landed. Usually when you get a voice mail from your kids it’s not a good sign, so I was a little bit nervous when I heard Jansen,” said Todd, an NHLer for parts of three seasons in the early 1990s.
“I played the message back three times because I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and then I just started crying. People were looking at me, and so, obviously, I had to tell them why I was crying. I was proud, not embarrassed, that I was crying for my son’s success and the opportunity.
“It hasn’t been easy for Jansen, and nor should it be. My process getting up to the NHL wasn’t easy and people told me all the time I was never going to make it, so why would it be any different for my kid.”
Jansen’s old man knows of what he speaks.
Chosen in the second round of the 1988 NHL Draft by Calgary, the brawny Cleveland product dressed for just 20 NHL games over four seasons in the Flames organization before being swapped to Hartford. Todd played 28 games with the Whalers during the 1993-94 season, spending the next seven years toiling in the International Hockey League, American Hockey League and Germany’s top league.
He coached in the Vancouver area and served as a Western Hockey League general manager in Prince George — at the same time Jansen was dominating at centre with the Cougars — since he hung up his blades in 2001.
“I always wanted one of my kids to experience something I was able to experience, just hoping one of them would get called up to the NHL one day,” said Todd. “I told Jansen, ‘Make the most of it. It could be for one day or the rest of your career, but in that time frame just enjoy the experience.'”
The NHL stretch of Jansen’s hockey journey is just beginning.
The 22-year-old forward from North Vancouver, listed at 6-2, 195 pounds, was called up along with Mason Appleton after injuries to the Jets started piling up this week. Mathieu Perreault and Andrew Copp are both out with upper-body injuries.
It’s Jansen’s first call-up since he inked an entry-level contract with Winnipeg in April 2017. In his third AHL campaign, he’s been simply dynamite for the Manitoba Moose, leading the team in scoring with seven goals and 24 assists in 30 games.
That equals his points total from a year ago — in 40 fewer outings. On Thursday, he was tied for third in the AHL.
After a hectic travel day Wednesday, Jansen took the morning skate Thursday with his new teammates at Bell MTS Place but won’t suit up against the Chicago Blackhawks. His NHL debut could come Saturday in St. Paul, Minn., against the Wild.
“It’s exciting, a pretty surreal feeling. Obviously, that’s kind of a dream come true for every hockey player. No words, really,” he told reporters Thursday. “I don’t think I was thinking about (a call-up) much, to be honest. I think I was just hoping it would happen one day and, obviously, (Wednesday) was that day.”
A terrific centre in junior with the Prince George Cougars of the WHL, Jansen was pegged as a future NHLer because of his strength, skill and bloodline.
But there were bumps along the way, to be sure.
Jansen spent a long Friday night at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., in late June 2015, waiting for but not hearing his name to be called at the draft — despite the fact he was projected to be a first-rounder.
“In that moment, that’s a tough night, especially with all of us being there and the big stage all set up. It would have been special to go first round and it was upsetting, no one wants to wait to hear their name,” Jansen recalled, in a chat with the Free Press earlier this week. “But my family was there, and when it happened we were all smiles. I talked to Winnipeg quite a few times and was definitely happy to go to them.”
Jansen had brief season-ending stints with the Moose in 2015 and 2016, netting three goals and four assists in 10 games. He’d become a regular under Manitoba head coach Pascal Vincent in the fall, 2017.
In his rookie season, he played until Christmas with the Moose but played sparingly and was a healthy scratch at times before being reassigned to the team’s ECHL affiliate, the Jacksonville Icemen.
All the while, guys like Kyle Connor and Jack Roslovic who took the college route and were drafted in the first round (Connor at No. 17 and Roslovic at No. 25) the same year were already making impressions with the big club.
Jansen said the demotion was difficult on his psyche.
“Getting sent down, as a top prospect, was tough to hear. Once I was down there, it’s just hockey and you go about your business and the guys were good there. But that’s tough on the ego, especially being 20 and not going through too much adversity in your hockey career until then. That was a shock for me,” he said. “No one wants to be sent down. You want to keep taking steps forward. But, in hindsight, that kind of was a step forward for me.”
Jansen scored twice and added 11 assists in 46 games for Manitoba that season, while supplying a pair of goals and four helpers in six games with the Icemen.
That summer, he committed himself to building strength and stamina in an effort to begin winning puck battles that had, not so long before, seemed effortless in junior. Still playing the wing, he finished with 15 goals and 31 points in 70 games during the 2018-19 season.
Out of training camp this fall, he was assigned to centre Manitoba’s top unit with Seth Griffith and Andrei Chibisov, and has soared offensively and as a dependable defensive forward. Craig Heisinger, the Jets assistant general manager who also serves as the Moose GM, said Jansen was a markedly improved player last year — and has taken a colossal leap forward up to now in ’19.
“One thing that changed last year was his strength, his ability to get underneath people, have a really strong stick, be able to hold people off. That didn’t transcend into points so much last year as it has this year,” said Heisinger. “If any one of us put up our hand and said we all saw this coming, that’s not true. The real person that saw this coming was Jansen Harkins, and he’s the one that deserves all the credit because he did all work.
“The one thing about Jansen is he doesn’t cheat the club or himself, whether it’s in-season or off-season. He puts in all the work and due diligence to give himself a chance, and he deserves all the credit. Jansens’ progression has taken maybe a bit more time than probably he would have liked and maybe, at times, that we would have liked. But he certainly put in the time and the effort, and deserves the success he’s had up to this point.”
A stint in the ECHL could have sent Jansen into a tailspin but, instead, proved to be the catalyst for a more diligent approach to his craft.
Vincent said not once did he sense any frustration from the young player.
“We believed that sending him down was going to benefit him. Having more touches and playing more minutes and getting the confidence back, you really believe it’s going to help – if the player does it right. And it worked for Jansen. He went to the East Coast for six games, came back and he did it right,” said Vincent.
“The progression has been consistent since then and it’s been all his doing. He’s taking all the information and all the time and all the practices, then he brings it to the games. His foundation is very solid and I don’t see any setback. He’ll have games where he’s off, like anyone else, but he’s consistent. He’s playing faster and he’s stronger. In one year, two years, three years, god knows what’s going to be his ceiling because of how hard he keeps working.”
All three of Todd and Kirsten Harkins’ sons have been involved in hockey. Jonas, 18, played 34 games in the WHL split between Prince George and the Regina Pats, and is now taking training to be a carpenter. Nicklas, 24, was the assistant equipment manager for the Cougars for several seasons while his father managed the club and Jansen played, and is back in Vancouver finishing his university degree in political science.
Nicklas has gained the admiration and respect from his parents, brothers and everyone that knows the Harkins family. He has fought a lifelong battle with a rare genetic disorder called Mucopolysaccharidosis (MPS), which seriously affects physical ability, organ and system function.
“He’s been a hockey fanatic since he was little. He’s Jansen’s biggest fan,” Todd said, recalling how Nicklas loved his time on the ice from his very first skate, while Jansen screamed and cried the entire time on a rink in Germany.
“He’s doing great right now. He’s going to Orlando for a conference for MPS, an update on potential therapies and cures, so it’s an exciting conference. We’re very proud of him, too, for what he’s had to overcome.”
Jansen said he loves spending summers with his family on the West Coast, and they tend to do a lot of outdoor things together. The family’s golden retriever, Griffin (from Harry Potter fame), is always along for the ride, and now Jansen’s own pooch, Fawkes (more Harry Potter), joins the rest of the crew.
But there’s far more pressing matters to attend to before he starts making plans for the off-season.
“Obviously you don’t want to be content with being up here. I’m trying to prove that I belong. But, at the end of the day, just happy to be here and try to enjoy it as much as I can,” Jansen said. “Kind of take it that way and hopefully I can get some time and show what I can do.”
That’s the approach he’s taken from the moment he pulled a Jets jersey over his head at the 2015 draft to his final shift with the Moose on Tuesday night in Loveland, Colo., before the promotion.
“It’s been a while since I was drafted and all the hockey I’ve played since then, and everyone in the organization has been really helpful toward me. They have trust in me now, and it’s good to see that come to fruition a little bit. The early years can be a little bit tough at moments, being young and starting off in a new league, obviously some ups and downs, but just really happy right now,” said Jansen.
“It comes down to comfort and confidence. Just going out and feeling like you can make an impact every shift and then having great players around you and the opportunity to do that.”
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).
Updated on Thursday, December 19, 2019 6:06 PM CST: Updates headline
Updated on Thursday, December 19, 2019 7:18 PM CST: Fixes typo.