Former Gopher Harris remembers good 'ol days

Minnesota native John Harris is a legend in Minnesota amateur golf circles. But longtime Gophers hockey fans remember him as a high-powered forward on the 1974 national championship team. Harris talks about those days. Also, Keith Ballard is looking forward to a chance at a third national title.

John Harris of Edina is a legend in Minnesota golf circles. He has won four Minnesota State Amateurs, two Minnesota State Opens and was named Minnesota Player of the Year 10 times.

But long-time Gophers hockey fans remember Harris as a sleek-skating, offensive force for the Gophers' 1974 NCAA National championship team. Until the Gophers won the first of their two consecutive titles in 2002, the 1974 squad was the last Gophers team to win a national championship.

Harris has fond memories of those days as a Gopher, and recently talked about what it was like playing for legendary coach Herb Brooks back in the day on

"We felt like we were an experiment," said Harris. "Herb had an unbelievable passion to coach hockey. He didn't like the way the North American-style hockey was being taught to kids. Our first game, a non-conference game, we came into the locker room leading 1-0 after the first period. Herb told us "that's enough," we didn't need to score another goal because we'd win if we didn't make a mental mistake. That was new to us but he felt we should never make a mental mistake, like taking a dumb penalty. He was the first coach to bring psychology to hockey, and every decision had a purpose. Sometimes, he canceled flights and put us on a bus to build camaraderie."

Harris recalled how the Gophers lost the 1971 NCAA title game to Boston University, his freshman season. Seven members of that Gophers team went on to play for the U.S. Olympic hockey team that won a silver medal in 1972.

"Then in 1974, we beat Boston University in overtime in the semifinal and beat Michigan Tech for the championship," Harris said. "We'd played Michigan Tech three weeks earlier and lost 7-1 and 6-0 but we beat them 4-2 for the title. We didn't have any stars, but everybody had a role and filled it beautifully. Like all championship teams, we got great goaltending from our goalie, Brad Shelstad, the tournament MVP."


Keith Ballard has been a key component during the Gophers recent title run, and he is excited to be back for a shot at a third-straight national title, he told the Grand Forks Herald recently.

Ballard, a native of Baudette, Minn., was the 11th player chosen overall in the 2002 entry draft by Buffalo, but later had his rights traded to Colorado in a trade that landed the Sabres high-scoring All-Star Chris Drury.

"The trade surprised me," Ballard told the Herald. "I didn't see it coming. I had a feeling that Buffalo liked me, and at the same time I understand this (the NHL) is a business."

Ballard said he is happy that his rights now belong to Colorado, a perennial NHL power.

"I'm going to a team with great tradition, one that always has such a good record," Ballard said. "You know they'll be a playoff team every year and a contender for the championship. It's the same feeling I had coming into the University of Minnesota, that I was coming into a big-time organization."

Ballard also said that the trade also could have helped the Golden Gophers. By adding Drury, the Sabres may have backed off on pushing high-scoring forward Thomas Vanek to sign. The Sabres made Vane the fifth overall pick in the June NHL entry draft.

Even though the NHL appears to be in the works in the near future for Ballard, he is looking forward to returning to the Gophers for a shot at another national title this season.

"I have a lot of developing to do here," Ballard said. "There's no reason for me to want to move on at this point."

Matt Krumrie covers Gophers sports for GoldenSports.Net. He can be reached at

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