In the world of hockey, stories of unexpected comebacks and last-minute heroics are not uncommon. However, the recent stint of Pelham's Hockey Director, Josh Harris, with the Birmingham Bulls adds a unique chapter to this narrative. Josh played for the Bulls from the inaugural SPHL season in 2017 until the COVID-19 pandemic halted his professional career in 2020. Fast forward to January 2024. Josh found himself back on the ice as a professional player.
A Journey from California to Pelham
Josh's passion for the sport began at a young age. He grew up playing youth hockey in Los Angeles, California. Following a stint as a junior player in Boston, he continued his hockey career at Castleton University. After graduation, Josh continued playing professional hockey for eight years. He played for the Peoria Rivermen, Evansville Thunderbolts, Pensacola Ice Flyers, and Huntsville Havoc before signing with the Bulls. Coincidentally, the Hockey Director position in Pelham became available just as Josh considered his next steps when his professional career abruptly ended. "It was perfect timing for me. I accepted the interim position, which later became a full-time role in 2021," he shared.
Birmingham Bulls Opportunity: A Return to the Ice
While serving as the Hockey Director for Pelham, Josh always told the Birmingham Bulls management that he could step in as an emergency player if needed. That opportunity arose when recent injuries and call-ups left the team needing experienced hands on the ice. The team called on Josh the night before the Martin Luther King Day game. His only preparation was an adult league game on the schedule that same evening.
"Mentally, I did not take it seriously. I planned to sit back and let the guys do their thing. I was just happy to be a part of the experience again," he explained.
So much for sitting back. Despite a four-year hiatus from professional play, Josh found himself in the position to score a goal in less than a minute, and score he did. The Bulls went on to beat the Knoxville Ice Bears in overtime. "I had a blast, and I'm glad the team pulled out the win," said Josh.
Josh said his main concern when returning was handling a puck at high speed after a long hiatus, but that faded as the game progressed. "It's funny to be put back in that situation. All of my old routines and knacks came back as if I never missed a beat," he said.
The team called on Josh again for its home game against Evansville on January 27th. Josh scored the game-winning goal with two minutes to go in the third period. The final was 2-1. When describing the moment of the game-winning goal, Josh recalled the game's intensity and physical demands.
"I was tired, legs cramping, not expecting to play. When my name was called, I got excited. I was just hoping the puck would stay in the offensive zone. When the puck ricocheted to me with a wide-open net, I was thinking, 'Please don't miss. Please don't miss.'"
Josh's return to professional play was so remarkable that the Bulls signed him for the rest of the season. "It's been an awesome (exhausting) feeling to return to the ice. My two goals came down to being in the right place at the right time, for which I am thankful."
Family Responsibilities: Juggling Roles
Josh will only play home games, and even though he knows he'll be suiting up, he has no plans to practice with the team, and for good reason. Josh's dedication to his family is evident in his daily routine.
"I am daddy daycare every day of the week until my wife gets off work, so being able to escape for a morning practice has not been in my cards. Between managing time to accomplish family life, being the Hockey Director, coaching kids two to three days a week, officiating youth and collegiate games, and playing adult league hockey, my plate is at max capacity," he explained.
Impact on Pelham Hockey Community: Inspiring the Next Generation
While Josh balances all his roles, he emphasized his passion remains with coaching. "My passion for hockey is always there, but it's directed towards growing the game in Pelham and sharing my knowledge with future Bulls players."
As word spread about his return to the Birmingham Bulls, the Pelham hockey community responded with excitement. "Many families in our program had no idea who I was. To hear them reach out with excitement is good to hear," he mentioned. "As for the kids in the hockey community, they think it's awesome Coach Josh is playing for the Bulls. It's fun to see their faces, and the parents are more aware of who is teaching their kids, it seems."
Josh sees this experience as an opportunity to increase interest and participation in hockey locally. He expressed hope that his return to the ice will serve as an icebreaker when speaking to future skaters at schools or events.
When asked if he would consider a return to professional play, Josh responded, "If all the stars align and my body can take it, I would love to see where it goes. But, this experience is not my top priority like it was just a few years back. I have to make sure those responsibilities are taken care of first."
Anyone interested in learning to skate and play hockey should visit the Pelham Civic Complex & Ice Arena website and explore the opportunities. "We have a path for you. See you at the rink," Josh said.