Harry Sye is a returning player from the 2014 Team USA Masters team that finished 3rd, winning a Bronze medal in Tampa, FL at the ISBHF Masters World Ball Hockey Championship.  That tournament was played on Harry’s home rink at All Sports Arena, and the rink experience paid off as Harry won the Most Valuable Defenseman award.  Harry will be looking to build on that experience along with several returning members as they prepare to do battle once again at the 2016 Championships in Banff, Alberta, Canada from June 1-6.  Harry was kind enough to spend some time with us and talk about his experiences playing hockey, some fond memories, and his appreciation for all the friendships and great teammates that the sport has afforded him throughout his life.

Harry Sye_2016
Harry Sye, 2016 Masters Team USA Defenseman

Where were you born and where did you grow up?

Grew up in Bethel Park, suburb just outside of Pittsburgh, PA.  Starting playing at South Park Dek hockey in 1990.

Where do you live now?

Clearwater, FL – been here since 2007.

What do you do for a living?

I work at EmCare, an emergency medicine staff company as an Operations Manager.

Do you have any family?  Wife?  Children?

My amazing wife Kris of 12 years.  Children Jackson 9 and Sophie 5.

The Sye Family

When did you first start playing hockey or street hockey?  Do you play ice as well?  Who introduced you to the game?

I started playing street hockey with all the kids in my neighborhood in the late 80’s around the time Mario and the Penguins were becoming something special.  I just played dek hockey, I really never had much desire to play ice until later in life.  Ball hockey is not as prevalent in the Tampa Bay area as it is up North so for the past few years I’ve been playing ice hockey and in additional to ball hockey.

harry ice
Harry and his local ice hockey team celebrating a league championship

What do you credit for being a big influence on you growing up playing street hockey?

I grew up in a great neighborhood and all we did was play sports.  We started playing street hockey with some of the kids that played ice hockey.  Immediately I loved it.  I didn’t have any skills so they through me on defense.  I was able to do well playing defense with little experience and skills using my size, reach and playing hard.  I had am immediate passion for the game and wanted to play everyday.

When did you get involved in the competitive side of street hockey?  What was the first championship you ever won?  

Soon after the street hockey, we started playing at South Park Dek hockey in Cadet.  It was amazing for us at the time, no moving the nets for cars, nice smooth surface, refs and all the parents cheering us on.  Honestly can’t recall my 1st championship, but after a few seasons we started to have success as a team.   I remember winning a freshman tournament in 1993 with Mark Madden’s Wizards at Mayer Dek in Long Island, my first major victory at a tournament and still have that trophy on display.

When did you realize you were getting pretty good at the game?  Who and what helped you improve as a player and how?

We had try outs for a cadet travel team and I was surprised to make the team.  I remember my 1st tournament experience; we were going to the storied GPDC (Greater Pittsburgh Dek Hockey Center) in Penn Hills.  That rink had been around a lot longer than the rink in South Park and we went into it thinking we were hot stuff, but quickly found out we had a long way to go.  I recall our 1st tournament game we lost 13-1 and went 0-3.  What a wakeup call.  Still that didn’t detour us, we stuck with it and we eventually formed a competitive Cadet and Freshman teams.

Harry and wife Kris showing their support for the Steelers

What was your best hockey memory growing up?

One that sticks out is playing in a Cadet tournament at GPDC in Penn Hills.  It wasn’t a National or even Regional event, more like a jamboree but I scored the game winning goal in the shootout.  I remember running back to my teammates and celebrating with them, then after the same feeling so proud as the celebration continued.  Still remember the drive home with my parents feeling like I was on top of the world!

Harry during Halloween with son, Jackson

There’s been a recent surge of youth ball hockey in the greater Tampa area.  We’ve seen a lot of posts about it on social media.  I understand you are involved with the program Matt Garry has put together at All Sports Arena?  

I’m excited about the future of the sport in Florida. In January 2016, led by Matt Garry and All Sport Arena, we have created youth ball hockey leagues.  The success in the first season was enormous.  We have 4 age groups and nearly 200 kids involved.  We have a variety of players coming out, some beginners, some kids from the roller hockey leagues and kids from ice hockey looking for another way to play hockey.  I’m proud to be part of it, teaching kids how to play the game I grew up playing, about sportsmanship and showing them how fun it is.  This is a great opportunity to grow the game in Florida we’re looking forward to having a Florida kid represent on Team USA one day!

What type of values are you trying to teach your son along with the kids in the youth program at All Sports Arena?

I’m really excited about being a part of the first youth ball hockey league in Florida.  First and foremost we make sure they are having fun. In order to have fun at hockey the kids need to be focused on improving their skills. That’s the key in coaching kids in my opinion, keeping practices fun while getting them to learn fundamentals.  Personally I go out of my way to teach them sportsmanship, playing hard and clean and positive reinforcement with their teammates.

When you’re not playing hockey, what are some hobbies you have?  What do you like to do for fun and relaxation?

Hockey is my hobby.  I play in two leagues, I’m a certified USA Hockey Coach and an Assistant Coach on my son’s travel ice hockey team.  Kris and I do as much as we can with the kids in our free time.  Living in vacation land, we’ll go to the amusement parks, beach, and different outdoor things to do within driving distance in the Sunshine State.  We enjoy family time and giving our children Jackson and Sophie as much enjoyment as we can.

What is it about ball hockey that you think makes people take it so seriously and be so passionate about it?

The comradery.  It’s unmatched.   We all want to win so bad and it shows in the competition on the rink.  Still, the best time is hanging out after the game with your teammates and even your rivals.  There is so much respect shown in this sport game in game out.

What is the hardest thing about winning in this sport?  What separates winners from losers?

It’s a team sport, so everyone must buy into the team and perform at their highest level to have a chance to win.  That’s the great thing about hockey, it takes everyone supporting each other to accomplish greatness.  The bond that is created is unmatched.

2014 Team USA huddling up before their Bronze Medal game against Slovakia

What is one of the worst losses you ever experienced?  How did you learn from that?

At the 2014 ISBHF Masters World Championships in Tampa, our Team USA loss in the semifinals to Canada was very difficult to stomach.  We played a great game.  I was on the rink when we surrendered that last second goal the ended our gold medal dream.  It was the worst moment of my career.  Everything we worked for taken away in a second.  Somehow we bounced back to take home bronze the next day by defeating the Old Boys of Slovakia 5-0.  That’s something to be very proud of. I think for a lot of us returning to Team USA 2016, a big part of our motivation is redemption for that devastating loss.

Another loss that I’ve never forgotten was 2005 Nationals in Leominster.  We made the long drive from Pittsburgh, twice a year for Nationals and Cam Ams for many years.  The Pittsburgh teams I was a part of in that era usually did OK but couldn’t bring home the hardware.  This team we had was loaded, mostly Pittsburgh guys, Dave Dorsey, Frank Tedesco, CJ Dempsey, Rick Zinger, Anthony Asturi, Dave Williams, Steve Russell, Al Pater in net amongst others.  Huge difference from this team was that we added Mark Goodey, Anthony Cillo and Jay Machin behind the bench.  One of the best tournament teams I was a part of.  A lot of this current Team USA represented.  We had a great tournament and beat the Stars 1-0 in the Semi and got a date with the Rams in the final.  One of the greatest games I ever played in, so intense and fierce.  Tied at 1-1 at the end regulation.  In OT, we hit the post, had a couple other glorious scoring chances, one of which a few guys begin jumping from the bench on to the rink to celebrate but it didn’t go in and the Rams beat us in OT.  A heart breaking loss that shows how difficult winning at the highest level is.

How did you get good enough to be recognized as a potential Team USA player?  

I was a rink rat, always at the rink shooting around, playing pick up anything hockey I was in.  To some extent I still do that to this day, we have a set up in the garage so my son and I can mess around and shoot.   Love it that much.  I also played on 4 or 5 teams per season, back then in Pittsburgh at South Park there 2 freshman leagues with 10 teams each,all the directional leagues: D-North, D-West, C-North, C-West, A, B so many leagues. Many of us played every day. Additionally other rinks had just as many leagues so we would travel to play in those leagues.  Personally I never took a break from the game, I continued to play every week and look to do so forever.   I try to play every game like it is my last, leaving everything out there.  I pride myself on being prepared physically and mentally to play hard every time I step on the rink.  I want to win everything I step out there.

Unfortunately Team USA wasn’t an option for many of us Pittsburgh guys in the 2000’s, there wasn’t even an opportunity to try out for the 2005 Team USA when the Worlds was in Pittsburgh.  That was extremely disappointing.  I’m so thankful that ASHI came along with Jamie Cooke’s leadership in putting this Masters program together.  Better late than never and as a guy that was passed over previously I’m not taking this opportunity for granted.

Harry playing for Team Florida at the Masters tryouts

Talk about the talent on this Team USA Masters squad.  What has this experience been like for you playing with such legends of the sport like Sheridan, Goodey, L’Heruex, etc…

The talent on this team is off the charts. Being “only” 40 I’m one of the younger guys on the team.  Many of the guys are a couple years older than me so I have looked up to all of them at some point in my career.  We have amazing depth and talent.  I also noticed in lining up for our team photo we have some very good size as well.  I feel playing at altitude on the large surface our depth will be a huge advantage, especially in Masters, endurance is a factor we should be able to save ourselves and be able to go strong every single shift. We understand this great depth is to our advantage.

Team USA_2016

2016 Masters Team USA

How do you feel about all the preparation your team has done in advance of Banff?  What are some positives you believe this preparation has given the team?

I cherish every time I step on the rink to play and I can see that same trait in all our guys.  From our camps it’s obvious that everyone has taken their fitness serious.  We are also all communicating and working together between, games, practices and shifts.  I feel the scrimmages in Niagara were great to simulate game action at high speed with the Worlds rules and on a similar surface.  We have a lot of guys returning from the 2014 Tampa team and we bonded during that experience and it’s been impressive how this group as bonded in throughout the process.  These guys understand how important the Team is and that comes first.

Team USA scrimmaging at their preparation camp in Niagra, Ontario

In 2014 you won Most Valuable Defenseman at the worlds.  Describe your feelings when you found out you won the award…

I think shock was my first feeling. Honestly I wasn’t really thinking about MVD until they begin to name the all tournament team and my teammates around me started telling me “it’s all you Harry” “you got this” haha.  That alone was a great feeling, that my teammates thought that highly of my performance. It was an enormous honor with so many great defensemen playing in the event, so getting the award was very special, certainly the biggest individual honor of my career.  It definitely means a lot to me and looks great on the trophy case but the winning Gold medal is what I really want.  I’m going to do everything I can to help get the Gold and won’t consider a subjective award like MVD until after the final game.

Harry after being named Most Valuable Defenseman

With the upcoming Masters World Championships in Banff, do you feel any additional pressure on you specifically because of your performance in 2014?

Not at all.  There is enough pressure playing in the event on the world stage where it’s Gold or failure for us to allow individual accolades into your mind.  Needing to stay focused on team goal, I set the bar high as far as personal performance and I have used that to prepare physically and mentally for the tournament.  I definitely had some jitters in the first game in Tampa in 2014, it was my first time representing USA and getting through that was important and my confidence sailed after. I’m going into this Worlds more prepared and confident and that takes some of the pressure off.  Team USA is full of MVDs, so many great defenseman on this team. I would be just as proud to see one of them win it.  That being said we don’t care about individual awards just Gold!

Any final thoughts?

I wouldn’t  be the player I am today without the total support my parents gave me growing up playing ball hockey.  I never missed tournaments or games because of their unending support.  Thank you Mom and Dad for that.  That is something I realize as a parent now myself, I will ensure my children have opportunity to reach their goals and dreams.  I would like to give a shout out to my wonderful wife Kris.   As a busy family of four, she has taken on so much extra responsibility allowing me to continue my competitive ball hockey career into my 40s.   She is as big part of my success on the rink as anything.

There are so many people that have helped my along the way in my career.  From way back I would like to give a shout out to Rick Boysen , Jack Eiler, Scott Chieffo, Greg Winks, and Mark Madden.  Former rink owners and coaches that were instrumental in my early development as player.  My sister Sherry has been one of my biggest fans along with Cam Thompson, Jason O’Patchen, Rick Zinger, and Kelly Hahn, lifelong friends that I played with for countless years and love like brothers.  Lastly a shout out to Sean Smith, Matt Garry and All Sports Arena  who have been great friends and instrumental in my recent career since moving to Florida.

Thanks to everyone for the positive messages and support.  It is appreciated!!

The 2016 ISBHF Masters World Ball Hockey Championships begin on June 1, 2016 in Banff, Alberta, Canada. ASHI will be there to bring you fantastic coverage.