Garrett Haar attended his first Capitals development camp, some three years back, feeling like a kindergartner amid a sea of high-schoolers. “I felt like a little 5-year-old walking around,” he said. “I felt like such a young kid, looking up to all the older guys.”
In the time since, Haar had left his USHL team, attended college for two seasons, left college, signed with the Hershey Bears and grown into one of those veterans he once looked up to in 2011. He can sense the uneasiness among some at Washington’s practice facility this week and knows when to wrap an arm around someone, take a walk and answer any questions they may have.
Haar knows better than most the winding path hockey can create for a teenager. This time last year, Haar had been declared academically ineligible for his junior year at Western Michigan, but attended Capitals camp determined to improve his grades. Then, as the week ended and camp closed, Haar had announced that he would leave the Broncos to pursue a career in the WHL.
“It was a big decision for me,” he said. “As much as it made my mom cry, I had to stand up for myself and make that decision.”
When Haar returned home to Southern California, he spent days on the phone trying to find a new spot. Medicine Hat seemed a likely option, but ultimately he signed with the Portland Winterhawks, where he scored 45 points over 61 games under Mike Johnston, who is now the Pittsburgh Penguins’ head coach. He held no doubts about leaving Western Michigan and it paid off.
“Honestly it was one of the most fun years of my life playing in juniors and I’m really glad I made that decision,” he said. “I thought it bettered me for sure.”
After all, Haar was chasing the dream he had held since age 11, when he told his mother he wanted to become a professional hockey player and she replied, “Okay, let’s get you on ice skates.” This June, he signed a contract with Hershey and could play either there or with the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays this season.
“I took that upon myself and made that decision for me,” he said. “I stand by my decision still and I’m really happy with it. Having to overcome all those obstacles has made me a better person.”
An offensive defenseman by nature, Haar has focused on improving his strength in defensive corners and blue-line awareness. At Capitals camp, he is rooming with fellow defenseman Madison Bowey for the second straight season. They grew close last year, soon after Bowey was drafted in the second round, and texted weekly during the season. So much has happened since Haar was in Bowey’s shoes, a fresh face looking to become a name.
“I feel like I’ve overcome a lot,” Haar said. “But to be honest I feel like I was just going into my freshman year at Western Michigan. The last three years have absolutely flying. Now that I’m here and it’s my fourth year at camp, it feel like it’s been flying by. It’s been a lot of fun. I played juniors, I played college, I played juniors before college. I’ve been all over the map, but I wouldn’t change the path I’m on and I think that’s helped me grow into the person I am today.”