Castleton's Harris reaching greatness from odd starting point
The leading scorer in Division III doesn’t come from Minnesota.
He’s not from Canada, either, or upstate New York. He’s not from Michigan. He’s not from Massachusetts – although he did play for the EJHL’s Bay State Breakers – or anywhere else in New England.
No, the leading scorer in Division III, Josh Harris of Castleton, is from Torrance, Calif., and he’s been scoring at a torrid pace for the Spartans. Through 23 games this season, the sophomore forward has 14 goals and 31 assists, leading the nation with an average of 1.95 points per game.
“It’s a little bit of a surprise,” Harris said. “Last year, I had a good year coming in as a freshman, and I expected this year to be better now that I have a feel for the league, and playing with a good line also helps me out.”
“I think one of the big things for Josh is his consistency,” Spartans head coach Alex Todd said. “He always seems to approach every situation the same, and works very hard. He’s very cerebral. He sees the ice forward, back, left, right.
“A lot of times, when he gets the puck, he knows what he’s going to do with it before he gets it.”
And, as the No. 4 Spartans prepare to close out their regular season this weekend with road games at Williams and Middlebury, Todd sees the way his top scorer’s Golden State upbringing affects the atmosphere around the team, which lost last weekend for the first time since Dec. 4.
“Josh’s consistency has spilled over to all of our players,” Todd said. “Josh has got the cool California, kind of mellow, laid-back attitude, and that coupled with his consistency, work ethic and play has made the team playoff-ready. I don’t think we get too high or low emotionally, and we know what we need to do to be successful. Whether we’re winning or losing, we stick to the game plan.”
Todd certainly knows what players from non-traditional hockey areas can bring to a team. Harris is one of two Castleton players from California – classmate and linemate Justin Alonzo, who shares the team lead in goals, is from San Jose – and the Spartans’ roster also features players from Texas, Virginia and Maryland.
“I think it gives a fresh perspective,” Todd said. “A lot of us that grew up in traditional hockey areas, be it northern U.S. or Canada, have been dealing with a lot of coaches and philosophies and habits that have been around for a long time, whereas the players coming from non-traditional markets like California and Texas and Florida, they really got exposed to hockey when the NHL expanded into those areas 20 years ago, so their instruction often comes from NHL players, former and current, who retire or relocate to the area, as well as the fans that became familiar with hockey through the professional experience.”
That difference in philosophy can be beneficial to the team, said Todd.
“Professional hockey is very cutting-edge. They’re always looking for the newest and best ways to teach their players and develop them. I think a lot of the non-traditional players get that experience at a young age, some of the cutting-edge ways of teaching and developing hockey, and they bring that cutting-edge philosophy, and it combines great with some of the traditional beliefs that the kids from Ontario and the hard-working North American style. It develops a great style of hockey that really helps NCAA hockey set itself apart.”
Certainly, Harris’ play has set him apart. His 31 assists – 1.35 per game - lead the nation, helping the Spartans rank second in Division III in scoring offense, with 4.65 goals per game. Castleton also ranks second in scoring margin, outscoring opponents by an average of 2.43 goals per game. Five of Harris’ goals and 17 assists have come on the power play, helping the Spartans’ extra-man unit rank third in the country at 30.1 percent.
“It’s an honor, in a way,” Harris said of his national leads in points and assists. “I’m playing against some good guys and good teams, and putting up some points. It feels good.”
Meanwhile, as life on campus in Vermont is certainly different from what Harris is accustomed to from growing up across the country – “I’m used to the city,” Harris said, “so I’ve got to adjust and have fun” - having teammates who are in similar situations certainly helps.
“It brings us closer,” Harris said, “since we’re all from different places, and we all come here not knowing anybody, so we all go through the experience together.”
The next experience for the Spartans – after this weekend’s games at Williams and Middlebury – will be the ECAC East playoffs, where they’ll look to improve on last season’s quarterfinal loss. And given the way that Harris and his teammates are playing, Castleton is primed to go much, much further.
“Everyone’s excited,” Harris said. “It’s a big weekend coming up. Everyone’s ready to play, and everyone knows what’s at stake.”