October 17, 2015
Ron Harris was a solid NHL defenseman for 476 games, mostly with the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers, and briefly with the Oakland Seals and Atlanta Flames. He also played as a forward on a checking line, most notably with the Seals.
"He was a good teammate," remember Tracy Pratt. "He brought a lot to the table with his toughness. He was a checking player who played steady up and down the wing
Harris, like so many players in the 1960s, really benefited from NHL expansion in 1967. Harris had been in the Red Wings system since the beginning of the decade and spent many of those years establishing himself as a solid defenseman at the AHL level.
When the NHL doubled in size to twelve teams in 1967, many NHL jobs opened up. Harris was able to play the 1967-68 season with the Seals.
Unfortunately, Harris will always be remembered for an unfortunate and tragic on-ice accident during a game between the Seals and Minnesota North Stars. Through no fault of Harris' he was directly involved in the only on-ice death in NHL history.
Early in the game on January 13th, 1968, Minnesota's Bill Masterton led a solo rush into Oakland territory where he was greeted unceremoniously by Seals' defensemen Larry Cahan and Ron Harris. Both defenders sandwiched the smaller Masterton with very hard though clean body check. Masterton fell to the ice, hitting his helmetless head on the ice, instantly knocking him out cold.
Masterton never regained consciousness. For more than 30 hours doctors managed to keep him alive using respirators but the massive internal brain injuries were too immense. Early in the morning of January 15th, 1968, Masterton died.
Harris has rarely spoken about the incident. But in 2003 he admitted Masterton's death haunts him every day.
"It bothers you the rest of your life. It wasn't dirty and it wasn't meant to happen that way. Still, it's very hard because I made the play. It's always in the back of my mind."
Harris returned to the Red Wings after that one season with Oakland. Harris was relieved to leave.
"I felt pretty about the trade because I knew a lot of people in the Red Wings organization since I played there for a few years. I knew that the travelling wouldn't be so bad anymore and that I was going back to an Original Six team. I would also be playing with Gordie Howe."
Harris spent four seasons in Detroit before joining Atlanta via the expansion draft. He would soon join the New York Rangers for three seasons. He had a particularly strong playoffs in 1974, scoring three clutch goals, including two game winners.
Harris retired in 1976 with 20 career goals and 111 career points in 474 NHL games. He took a job as a scout and a coach.