You remember the chant. "Har-old! Har-old!" And who can forget the bushy moustache and icy glare? Never known for his scoring prowess, long-time Vancouver Canucks defenceman Harold Snepsts made an indelible mark on this province with his on-ice leadership, toughness, heart, and grit. To this day he remains one of the most popular players in franchise history.
Drafted 59th overall by the Canucks in the 1974 Amateur Draft, Snepsts’ rugged play with the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings attracted the attention of big league scouts. As a clean-shaven, baby-faced 19-year-old, Snepsts made his NHL debut with the Canucks in 1974-75 as Phil Maloney’s troops marched to the franchise’s first-ever Smythe Division title. Establishing himself as a mainstay on the Canucks blueline the following season, the towering Snepsts would remain with the club for a decade, developing into a fan favourite, whose every touch of the puck was greeted by The Chant. He admits that with the tremendous support came tremendous pressure to perform at his best night in, night out, noting, “How could you not want to do well for these fans?”
Playing the best hockey of his career during the 1981-82 season, Snepsts was a key cog in the Canucks unlikely cinderella run to the Stanley Cup final against the powerful New York Islanders. Although that magical spring remains the highlight of Snepsts’ career, one unlucky picked-off pass that led to Mike Bossy’s winner in Game One continues to haunt him.
In one of the most unpopular moves in team history, Snepsts was traded in 1984 to Minnesota. After three years in Detroit, Snepsts returned to Vancouver for two more seasons, restarting British Columbia’s idolization of ‘Big Harry.’ Although 34 years old, Snepsts could still play with the youth of the NHL. The Vancouver Sun’s Archie McDonald wrote, “There is a hockey expression for guys who embrace the ice like Harold Snepsts. They say he can play defence in a rocking chair.”
In 1990, he was traded to St. Louis where he eventually retired in 1991, finishing his 17-year career with 1033 games played, 233 points, and 2009 penalty minutes. For the rest of the decade, he remained involved in the game through coaching, as head coach of the Peoria Rivermen (1991-92) and San Diego Gulls (1993-94), the WHL’s Portland Winter Hawks (1998-00) where he was a longtime minority shareholder since his early playing days, and as an assistant with the St. Louis Blues for one NHL season (1992-93). After spending several years with the NHL’s Central Scouting, Snepsts recently returned to the Canucks organization as a western scout.
Amid frequent uniform changes, Snepsts’ hard-working, lunch-bucket play was always consistent, making life miserable for many NHL forwards who dared to venture into the Canucks’ zone. There was never any question about big number 27’s toughness either, playing through innumerable injuries. As one of the last NHL players to play without a helmet, his doctor once advised him to wear a lid to protect against potential damage to the noggin. Displaying his characteristic good nature and humour he replied, “Don’t worry about that, Doc. If it happens, I could always return as a forward.”
Snepsts’ character and fine defensive play did not go unrewarded. He represented the Canucks at the NHL All-Star Game twice in 1977 and 1982, was named Vancouver’s top defenceman on four occasions, and was awarded the Fred Hume Award once as the team’s unsung hero.
Some players captivate with their skill and speed, while others impress with their size and strength. And then there are those rare few whose character transcends the game they play. Big Harold’s heart touched every corner of this province. The Har-old chants may be rare these days, but they still echo clearly in the memories of many.
Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.