Andrew Harris is a hockey guy through and through. He just happens to make a living playing professional football as one of the most talented CFL running backs of his era.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers star has a passion for the puck that equals or even surpasses his gusto for the gridiron, and that love for Canada’s favourite pastime was forged in Steinbach, Man., where Rogers Hometown Hockey touches down this weekend.
Originally from Winnipeg, Harris played minor hockey on the Riverview Rangers until age 10 when his family moved an hour southeast to Steinbach.
“There was always hockey around, always a stick around,” Harris says of his Steinbach years. “There was always some sort of way to get a game going. I was always playing. It was great.”
Raised primarily by a single mother, Harris worked his way up through Manitoba hockey’s various rep levels despite using some outdated equipment, eventually playing AAA while also making several select teams over the years.
“I was definitely always one of the fastest guys out there,” he said, giving a scouting report of his on-ice abilities. “I played centre. I played offence, I played defence, I’d lead the league in scoring and also lead the league in penalty minutes. I had a bit of an edge to myself and I had an aggression, so I was pretty well-rounded as far as that’s concerned.”
When Harris was 13 or 14 he was on a select team for the Director’s Cup, which he described as “basically a big tournament for the best players in Manitoba…. All the WHL scouts come out and watch that for the WHL Draft.”
Harris explained he “had stacks of letters and stuff to go to camps in junior A all across Western Canada” plus “quite a few WHL letters inviting me to camp,” but he was never drafted.
“All the scouts always told me… the one thing I need to work on was my shot. It’s funny because that still holds true,” Harris added with a chuckle. “I always had really good hands and could pass and if I was in close I’d be able to get it done, but I was never the guy that could score from the top of the circle with a hard shot or accurate shot.”
Shortly after the Director’s Cup appearance, he and his mother moved back to Winnipeg, where he attended Grant Park High School. And it was around this time when Harris’s focus began transitioning more from hockey to football.
“After grade nine I was going through quite a bit of stuff at home, like family stuff,” Harris said. “At the time I played Manitoba Hawks, which is AAA in the summer, and we travelled all across Canada for tournaments, and it was actually quite hard on my mom. I mean it was like $8,000 back then for the summer. That was a lot of money for her, so I ended up saying ‘This is too much’ and I just kinda ended up playing high school, which was a little bit less competitive.”
In an alternate universe, one in which Harris continued playing high-level hockey, it’s entirely possible he could’ve ended up on a junior-A team like the Steinbach Pistons, or even somewhere in the WHL.
But even though he didn’t chase hockey as a career path, he never gave up the game entirely, and still ended up rubbing shoulders with several players who did.
Harris played summer hockey with Darren Helm and was on one select team with Steinbach native Ian White — both reached the NHL and suited up for his beloved Detroit Red Wings, who he adopted after the Winnipeg Jets moved to Phoenix.
He also played against fellow Winnipeg native Ryan Reaves on both grass and ice.
“When he was in … pewee playing football he was like 6-foot-1 and like 200 pounds,” Harris said of the Vegas Golden Knights enforcer. “He was just running kids over and then everyone kind of caught up to him. He was a big dude, but he was more skilled than anything.”
Fittingly enough, Reaves’s father, Willard Reaves, was a star running back in the CFL in the mid-1980s, winning the league’s Most Outstanding Player award in 1984 when he played for none other than the Blue Bombers.
Harris still has ties to the NHL today and in recent years has developed friendships with several current Jets players, including Nikolaj Ehlers and Andrew Copp.
The five-time CFL all-star and 2017 Outstanding Canadian still plays hockey three to four days a week in the off-season on a couple different teams and even served as a beer-league ringer late last year.
“I just love the game,” he said. “My main team I play with is pretty much my hockey team that I played with back in high school. We’ve got a few new additions and stuff but for the most part I just like to play with guys I know and just hang out after — and if you’re a hockey guy you know what that means.”
Harris has an 11-year-old daughter, but she hasn’t quite adopted her father’s love for hockey. However, they still bond over sports.
“I’ve been trying to teach her to skate for like six years but she hates it,” Harris laughed. “So she doesn’t play hockey and didn’t take to skating as much as I hoped, but she really loves soccer and … I’ve been coaching her for two years.”
The soon-to-be-32-year-old has racked up 13,496 all-purpose yards on 2,026 total touches since his CFL career began in 2010. He has put his body through the rigours of professional football long enough to have learned less is more when it comes to putting his body through the rigors of off-season training.
And, of course, hockey is a big part of that, too.
“I built a gym in my basement out here in Winnipeg so I’ll get down there four times a week lifting,” he said. “And then I’ll do my cardio on the ice and playing basketball.”
Harris, who didn’t play college football, took an uncommon path to get to the CFL, but every step along the journey hockey has been and will continue to be an integral part of his identity.
“Hockey is a big part of my off-season training and staying active. [When] it’s minus-50 out here … I’d rather just go play ice hockey instead of running on a treadmill or doing stuff like that,” he said. “It’s a big part of my life still and Steinbach was definitely a big influence on getting me into the game.”