Hard work pays off for Rafael Harvey-Pinard
This article was written by Dylan Nazareth, who is part of the Professional Hockey Writers Association x To Hockey With Love Mentorship Program. This program pairs aspiring writers with established association members across North America to create opportunities for marginalized people who have not traditionally been published on larger hockey-covering platforms.
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When Rafaël Harvey-Pinard began to make his way into the world of Quebec hockey, few scouts or industry professionals thought he would go all the way. Critics fired him early, saying he was too small, not strong enough, not a good skater. But former coach Mitch Giguère saw otherwise.
“After the first practice of training camp with over 40 players on the ice, I said to myself, I told my wife, I told my friend and all the coaching staff there , Harvey-Pinard will play pro one day,” Giguère said.
A native of Saguenay, Que., Harvey-Pinard was drafted in the seventh round by the Canadiens in 2019. He made his NHL debut last season, scoring in his first of a four-game underage call-up. Now, after another call-up in January, Harvey-Pinard has stunned the hockey world with his impressive play, scoring seven goals in his first 11 games and quickly rising to the top line alongside captain Nick Suzuki. For the people he met along the way, it was no shock at all.
Giguère coached Harvey-Pinard at 15, at the Saguenay Midget Espoir in the QMEAA, and remembers it well. « He was a shy guy, but always smiling, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, » he recalls. “His work ethic on and off the ice was above and beyond. And to this day, he has the best on-ice work ethic I’ve ever seen, ever coached.
In 2015, Giguère was also working as a scout and says he informed teams that Harvey-Pinard was easily a second-round pick for the upcoming QMJHL draft. Despite this, Harvey-Pinard was not selected until the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies selected him in the eighth round. True to his character, he did not let himself be discouraged and continued to surpass himself in the QMJHL, where he made a strong impression.
Former teammate Taylor Ford remembers playing against Harvey-Pinard before joining him with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, saying he had some reputation in the league early on. « I’m a stoppage defender, and he was kind of a point guy. So we were on ice with our fair share together,” says Ford. « I’ll tell you, he always gave me a hard time, and I kind of joked about it with him when I met him. »
One thing Ford remembers more than anything is how funny Harvey-Pinard was. « His English wasn’t very good and my French wasn’t very good so our communication would be a bit interrupted… but the guy just seemed happy all the time. He was goofy and he was having fun, he was just bringing a kind of positive, happy energy that you enjoy being with you.
Harvey-Pinard became captain of the Huskies after two years, which came as no surprise to Ford, who had overseen him as an alternate captain. « I saw there was leadership and I saw it immediately, » Ford said. « He has to be the hardest worker I’ve ever played with. And it’s a bit cliché to say, you know, the guy is a hard worker, he deserves to be a leader. But when I say he’s the hardest worker I’ve ever played with, that’s the truth.
Mathieu Gagnon, another former Huskies teammate, was new to the team when Harvey-Pinard was captain. It tells a similar story of Harvey-Pinard’s leadership. “I’ve never seen someone work so hard every day in training, in individual battles, off the ice when we practice,” Gagnon said. « It was really impressive, and it was just a good role model for me as a young player to follow straight away. »
Gagnon eventually became captain of the Huskies himself and recalls how Harvey-Pinard’s leadership style inspired him with his strong work ethic and « the way he had fun coming to the rink every day » , he said. « [That’s] something I picked up.
Gagnon even remembers the energy he brought to a staple like the shuttle run, a high-intensity sprint exercise often unpopular with athletes of all levels. « He was the fastest guy I’ve ever seen. It was a simple exercise, just going back and forth. But I don’t know, he did it so fast, man. It stuck in my mind. To this day, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone run as fast as him.
William Cyr played for three years with Harvey-Pinard with the Huskies and remembers it well, since their first meeting. « I remember at 16 our first match, we were both very small guys…we looked like 14 with a bunch of old people, » he jokes. « But our first side, we both did really well, he was a small forward but he’s still 100 per cent, and he always surprised you the first time you saw him because he didn’t will never give up. »
As captain, Harvey-Pinard oversaw a record-breaking 2018-19 season for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, which included a 25-game winning streak, a President’s Trophy and a Memorial Cup win. And Cyr saw how his leadership pushed the team in the right direction. « He’s always smiling, always happy, and everyone in the room will do anything for this guy, » Cyr says. « Without him, I don’t think the chemistry would be the same – when you see your captain working hard like that, everyone just keeps buzzing. »
Now Harvey-Pinard is impressing at the highest level. Last weekend, he recorded his first NHL hat trick, making his mark in the league on national television. « The success he’s having in the NHL right now, there’s no surprise, » Ford said. “He never gives up on a puck, he will never give up on a backcheck, forecheck. That’s how we succeed. »
Not surprised to see his decade-old prediction come true, Giguère says Harvey-Pinard’s success at the professional level comes “because he likes to play hockey, he likes to have fun and he works harder than anyone. It’s his trademark. He says to this day they still stay in touch.
Although he was fired early on, Harvey-Pinard worked hard his entire career to seize every opportunity he had. As the Canadiens’ top players recover from injury and return to the roster, roster decisions will need to be reassessed, sending some of this year’s call-ups back to the minors. For Harvey-Pinard, if he continues to display the hard work that surprised people early on, he’s guaranteed to earn his spot on the team for a long time to come.