By Bill Potrecz, The Standard
The Niagara IceDogs finally got their man.
Niagara coach/general manager Marty Williamson has been on the lookout for a No. 1 centre for some time, and Wednesday he was able to pull off a deal.
The IceDogs picked up over-age centre Stephen Harper from the Hamilton Bulldogs in exchange for forward Evan Krassey and four draft picks — Windsor’s third-round pick in 2016, Windsor’s second-round pick in 2017, Niagara’s second-round pick in 2020 and Kitchener’s fifth-round pick in 2018, which they had obtained through earlier deals.
Niagara also receives Barrie’s seventh-round pick in 2016 as part of the deal.
Harper, 20, is a Burlington native who had 17 goals and 41 points in 37 games for Hamilton this season.
“(I’m) smiling ear to ear,” Williamson said. “He’s a guy we’ve been watching a while. We think he’s a perfect fit for our hockey team. Getting off the phone with him makes me even more excited to hear how excited he was to be with us and help us have a good run.”
Williamson plans to use Harper on a line with sniper Brendan Perlini.
“I’ve been looking for a No. 1 centre to go beside Perlini, and that’s my fit,” Williamson said.
Harper, along with forward Tyler Boston who was picked up earlier this week from Guelph, should add some much-needed depth up front for the IceDogs.
“There’s nothing better than when you can throw multiple weapons at teams,” Williamson said.
“Teams can shut down one-line teams, but we think we can throw offence from all over. We’re going to be a difficult team to handle offensively.
“I think these guys aren’t one-dimensional players. Harper plays a great two-way game and so does Boston. The priority is to play better defence.”
Williamson said he had been in talks with Hamilton coach/general manager George Burnett for a while.
“We’ve been talking and things weren’t coming together, and it looked like it got away on me,” Williamson said. “Last night, George and I said we are going to make this happen.
“I give a lot of credit to George. I think he understood how much his player wanted to be with us and wanted this role with our team. And credit to Hamilton, he could get it done.”
“Stephen has had a terrific first half of the season here in Hamilton,” Burnett said. “This is the right decision for our organization and we expect a number of the veterans in our room to take advantage of this opportunity to lead and flourish.”
Williamson was particularly pleased he was able to pull off the deal without giving up a core piece from his group of younger players.
“For our fans going forward, we still have (Hayden) Davis and (Ben) Jones and (Chris) Paquette and this group of kids who will be with us for a long time,” he said. “I think they can learn an awful lot from this group. We’ve seen this before with (Carter) Verhaeghe slotting in behind that group of guys. This is what our guys will have to do in the second half here, push for ice time and push for spots.
“We know we have players for next year. There’s some work to do to get some picks back, but the way this league works that’s the easiest thing to get back. To get good young talent is very difficult.”
Krassey, 17, has played 18 games this season for Niagara and another 11 for the Fort Erie Meteors of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League.
“I’m very excited to join the Hamilton Bulldogs,” Krassey said. “I am looking forward to the opportunity and can’t wait to get to work.”
Harper and Krassey did not play Wednesday in Hamilton where the IceDogs defeated the Bulldogs 5-3.
Graham Knott, Jordan Maletta and Johnny Corneil scored as Niagara took a 3-0 lead after one period.
Niki Petti and Mason Marchment scored for Hamilton in the second before Marchment’s second tied the game at 3-3 in the third.
Maletta then potted the winner with less than three minutes to play when his pass went off the stick of a Hamilton defender. Ryan Mantha scored into an empty net to conclude the scoring.
“We played well early but at this time of the year, some guys think too much and it’s mentally exhausting,” Williamson said. “I thought we tired very quickly as the game went on. It’s the stress of the time (trade deadline Monday) even if you’re not involved in the trade but we pulled it together after we tied it 3-3. We didn’t have a bad shift after that.”
The IceDogs are in Saginaw Friday and Flint Saturday. Harper is slated to make his Niagara debut Friday.
“I met him here and was very impressed,” Williamson said. “He was very well spoken and very smart. Just a really good attitude.”