The Prince Albert sporting community, and the city in general, took a real blow on Wednesday when former Raider Warren Harper passed away after succumbing to a lengthy battle with cancer.
Harper, who was 50 years old, had been fighting the illness for the past couple of years and despite a brief period of remission, never got the upper hand on the dreaded disease.
“We lost a gentleman with great integrity and a very caring friend,” noted long-time teammate and friend Mark Odnokon. “He put a smile on everyone’s face.”
“Harps was just a real special teammate,” added Peter Anholt, who played with Harper for one season in 1980-81 when the Raiders won their third Centennial Cup championship. “I think of all of our time together as teammates and as friends and it brings a smile to your face.”
Harper was born in Prince Albert on May 10, 1963, and it soon became obvious that he had a special skill as a hockey player while playing with various teams in the East End Community Club.
The smooth-skating forward was just 17 years old when he cracked the line-up of the powerful Raider squad of the early 1980s and in his two seasons with the Junior “A” edition of the team scored 71 goals and added 76 assists while winning back-to-back national championships.
His performance with the Raiders garnered him a scholarship opportunity with Michigan State University, but after a short stint playing NCAA hockey he returned to Prince Albert to be just one of a few players to play with the organization in Junior “A” and in the Western Hockey League.
While the Raiders struggled through their maiden season in the WHL winning just 16 games, Harper’s return added some scoring punch as he collected 17 goals and 15 assists in just 41 games.
A late-round selection of the Buffalo Sabres in the 1981 entry draft, Harper turned professional the following year and enjoyed immediate success with the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League. As a 20-year-old freshman Harper scored 25 goals and added 28 assists in 78 games and was also a key contributor in the playoffs when the Americans went the distance in winning the Calder Cup.
Harper spent four more years in Rochester and then had stints in Flint, Adirondack and Hershey before jumping across the pond to spend his final two years playing with a club team in Germany.
Harper retired from the game in 1991 at just 27 years old and returned to Prince Albert where he and his high school sweetheart Monica settled in and raised their family. Harper got his license to be a financial advisor and for a number of years relocated to Meadow Lake before once again coming home to Prince Albert.
“Maybe we weren’t real, real, real close the last few years, but whenever we got together it was real special,” remembers Anholt.
In addition to countless friends, teammates and work associates, Harper leaves to mourn his passing, his wife Monica and four children – Hannah, Shelby, Rebecca and Beth – along with grandson Beau.
Funeral arrangements have not been finalized