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Not Your Average Pro

by Chantel McCabe / Carolina Hurricanes
Chantel McCabe

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Jay Harrison is not your average professional athlete.

Known as "Harry" in the locker room, Harrison could easily be named "Mr. Everything" because of his wide range of interests and diverse knowledge.

Harrison is engaging and thoughtful, too, and if you sit down with him for five minutes, you never know where the conversation will go. One day it could be about World War I, which his great-great-grandfather served for the Canadian army. Another day he'll tell you stories from a month-long road trip with his former AHL team, the Toronto Marlies, who embarked on a brutal winter as Harrison was climbing his way to the NHL.

Harrison has always loved hockey, but what makes him unique are his passions for dozens of other things, like his music, which has accompanied him from Oshawa, Ontario, to Raleigh, North Carolina, and every stop in between.

"Becoming a pro" as they say is all about the work you commit to your craft. It applies to hockey just as much as it applies to Harrison's favorite hobby.

Harrison will tell you that playing an instrument "requires dedication and repetition to get results." But it's also stress relieving and challenging. Harrison plays three instruments: guitar, violin and piano.

At age 10, Harrison's parents gave him a guitar for Christmas, exactly what he wished for. His uncle Brad "Buck" taught him to play the first song he learned: "Running Down a Dream."

Harrison and his grandfather shared their love of music together, and he remembers listening to Travis Tritt with his family. His younger brother, Tyler, also played guitar, and the two brothers have spent countless hours together jamming to their favorite tunes and trying to imitate Slash, Harrison's favorite musician.

The brothers' first concert was seeing Matchbox 20 at Massey Hall in downtown Toronto when Harrison was in ninth grade. He was captivated by the energy of the crowd and the connection to the music.

"Time stands still when you're captured by a musical artist that you admire," he said.

Life takes you many places, and minor league hockey brought Harrison to rural Newfoundland, where his sport and music intersected perfectly. Not every young adult would enjoy the culture of folk Irish tradition, but Harrison made the best of the situation and basked in the experience. The island is known for its Irish roots, and it was there he met local fiddler Pat Moran.

Moran's band, The Punters, often played at O'Reilly's Pub in the quaint downtown of St. John's. Moran said there was a young man in the crowd, a tall, fit young man.

"There was something different about him" Moran said of Harrison.

Once the two were introduced, they met several times a month, and Moran taught Harrison how to play the fiddle.

"He was always very inquisitive," Moran said. "He always wanted to pick your brain. He could have easily made a career in the music scene if he wanted to. We have a job waiting for him if he wants it."

Harrison smiles when he thinks about all he has learned.

"It's another gift that hockey has given me," he said. "It adds parts to myself that I wouldn't have if I didn't play the game."

The path on which hockey has taken him has exposed him to things he may never see or know about had he chosen a different career.

"You enjoy things you never knew you liked and get an appreciation for other cultures," Harrison said. "With each chapter of life you immerse yourself in what you're doing."

Hockey and his passion for music have united at other times, too. He'll sometimes bring his guitar with him to play with his teammates during downtime. Last season when the Hurricanes stopped in Nashville, he got an exclusive tour of the Gibson factory, the birthplace of guitars used by legends like BB King. Harrison learned about the storied company and was shown how the hand-made instrument is brought to life. He was most excited to see the craftsmanship and quality of the guitars, further appreciating the passion of fellow musicians.

So why does Harrison enjoy playing and listening to music so much? The answer reveals his personality perfectly.

"It's a life skill to connect to people without knowing them," he said. "It crosses culture and time. It's extremely human."

Those are the exact reasons why Harrison is passing along the art to his three daughters. When road trips separate him from his family, he makes sure to communicate with his girls via FaceTime, fitting in violin lessons with his oldest daughter, Presley.

"It comes back full circle," he said. "It allows them to develop and be inspired. Not to force them but expose them to new things and allow them to take their own path."



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