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Haaaaarold

Sunday, 13.03.2011 / 11:30 AM / Features - 40th Anniversary
By Derek Jory

“When you ask Vancouver Canucks fans over the years who the most popular Canuck player has been, several names come to mind: Trevor Linden, Stan Smyl, Pavel Bure…but I think a lot of fans would say Harold Snepsts” – Jim Robson.

Harold Snepsts will be inducted into Vancouver’s Ring of Honour when the Canucks host the Minnesota Wild on March 14, a fitting honour for the 12-year Canucks defenceman.

Snepsts will be immortalized at Rogers Arena alongside Orland Kurtenbach, Kirk McLean and Thomas Gradin, his easy smile and trademark mustache a reminder that a strong work ethic and unyielding dedication is enough for some to succeed.

Snepsts, who played for the Canucks from 1974-75 to 1983-84 and again between 1988-89 and 1989-90, wasn’t an agile skater and dangles weren’t in his stick-handling repertoire, he was robust like few others in team history with a genuine enjoyment for every shift he ever played.

Despite playing one of the most pressure filled sports in a hockey-crazed city, Snepsts faced adversity the way he’s always approached life, with ease. Snepsts’ mother lived with multiple sclerosis when he was a child and while both parents always attended his games, they were far from raging hockey parents.

“My mom would rather talk to the people than watch the games, so neither of them ever put pressure on me,” said Snepsts, the 59th overall selection of the 1974 NHL Draft. “All they asked is that I enjoyed it, whether it be hockey or football or the other sports I played, as long as I enjoyed it, they were going to take me to the event.”

That attitude helped Snepsts’ love for sports blossom and it wasn’t long before the Edmonton, Alberta-born rabble-rouser, who remembers frequenting Edmonton Flyers games with his father back in the day, but sleeping through the third period most nights, was pining to play professional hockey.

When the Western Hockey League Flyers folded, the Junior A Edmonton Oil Kings became the be all and end all for Snepsts. All it took was a tryout and Snepsts made the team in 1972 in what was the biggest springboard towards a 17-year NHL career.

According to legendary Canucks broadcaster Jim Robson, when Snepsts was drafted scouts questioned the move stating that he couldn’t skate, couldn’t stick handle and he couldn’t shoot. The only attributes on Snepsts’ side were toughness and work ethic.

It’s ironic Snepsts is an amateur scout with the Canucks today, although he isn’t as quick to judge a book by its cover as his scouts were. Luckily Vancouver fans weren’t quick to judge him either or the relationship could have gotten off on the wrong foot with Snepsts, a helmetless mustachioed hockey player, looking like something out of the wild wild west.

Instead Snepsts was an instant hit on the West Coast with fans responding to his enthusiasm for being the tough guy; all these years later the lunch-bucket blueliner is still admired in the same light, he’s one of few players to have enjoyed such enduring popularity.

Proof of Snepsts lasting legacy is the ‘Haaaaarold’ chant that will surely be circling Rogers Arena come Monday.

How the chant began is part of Canucks folklore and only the man himself knows how it really started.

“There was a gentleman in Washington and they had a poor team and to get excitement in the crowd he had a megaphone, so his idea to get the fans into the game was to pick on someone on the other team,” explained Snepsts.

“I didn’t wear and helmet and I looked like a villain, so he started yelling ‘Harold’ into this megaphone. Then it exploded, in Detroit they started doing the ‘Harold’ and then it just continued around the league.”

Snepsts also toured around the league as he was traded to the Minnesota North Stars in 1984 and then signed by the Detroit Red Wings a year later. He returned to Vancouver for two seasons to end the 1980s before ending his career with the St. Louis Blues.

It wasn’t the way Snepsts had envisioned finishing his playing days, but he credits the Canucks with prolonging his NHL career by trading him.

“I thought I was going to retire here in Vancouver,” admitted Snepsts. “I never bought a place here for the first 10 years because I always did think I was going to get traded, then I got into that comfort zone thinking maybe this would be the place I close my career in.

“Being traded did come as a shock, I can understand why they did it and in hindsight, it rejuvenated me. I had to prove myself over again to a different organizations, different players that I hadn’t played with, so it gave me another seven years in the NHL.”

Vancouver may not be where Snepsts retired, but this is where he is most beloved and his place in the Ring of Honour secures his legacy with the Canucks.

Haaaaarold… Haaaaarold… Haaaaarold!