ST. PAUL. Minn. -- Shep Harder was a minor-league journeyman -- a one-year minor-league journeyman.
There were cups of coffee that had longer stays in one city.
In 2000-01, Harder -- the Minnesota Wild's now-33-year-old director of hockey administration -- bounced around the East Coast and International Hockey leagues, playing 15 games for five teams.
"It became pretty clear I was a marginal minor-league goaltender at best and I was 25 years old by the end of it all, so I think the writing was on the wall that it wasn't going to happen for me," said Harder, who grew up in suburban Minneapolis and made a name for himself in high school for being the goalie that snapped prep powerhouse Bloomington Jefferson's 60-game win streak in 1994.
After playing at Colgate University, Harder's minor-league career was such a blip on the radar, he figured there was no way Todd Richards would remember being teammates with him.
So at Richards' press conference last June, Harder tiptoed up to the new Wild coach to reintroduce himself.
"I played 13 years, and you play with a lot of different players and guys come up to me all the time and say, 'Remember, I played with you' here," Richards said. "Usually, I say, 'Gosh, I'm sorry, I don't remember."'
"But Shep," Richards said, laughing, "I do remember, Shep. I said, 'You're a goalie, right? You're the goalie reading the book?"'
Harder's heart sunk.
In that instant, Harder realized that his pro career might have been brief, but he's probably become a minor-league folk story in bars across America.
"Goalies are obviously quirky to begin with, and yes, I did have a quirky habit," Harder said. "A friend of mine's dad (once) gave me an article on Mike Richter. And every U.S.-born goaltender loved Mike Richter. In the article, Richter said he'd read 30 minutes on every game day. So I followed it, and I found ... it helped me concentrate, helped relax me.
"But somehow it morphed into an hour on gamedays, and then it spilled over to reading in the locker room before games and then somehow reading in the locker room between periods."
Harder played one game for the ECHL Charlotte Checkers before being called up to the IHL Orlando Solar Bears. On that team was Richards, Orlando's 34-year-old captain.
Harder spent a month with Orlando but only saw action in one game. The Solar Bears were in Cincinnati getting shelled one night when No. 1 goalie Norm Maracle pulled himself after 28 minutes. In came Harder for the final 12 minutes of the second period and all of the third.
During the second intermission, Harder went back to his old routine. Without thinking how unusual it would look to new teammates he barely knew, Harder pulled out his book.
"The coach (Pete Horachek) is kicking over the Gatorade and screaming," Richards said. "I'm sitting there and look across the room and here's our goalie, ... reading a book!"
Harder -- a no-name, minor-league goalie -- made his mark.
"I'm probably not remembered by name, but I'm the quirky goalie with the book," Harder said. "I wish I was remembered for stopping the puck, but unfortunately I didn't do that consistently. I contend I was the one normal goaltender out there, but I guess the habit was befitting of a goaltender.
"That was my 30 minutes of fame in the IHL. I went back to just practicing and making sure I was there on time."
Now in retirement, Harder's making his mark in the Wild's front office. The bright, creative and very funny Harder started as a hockey ops intern, then was hired by former GM Doug Risebrough as project manager.
Harder's job entails a lot of statistical analysis, but under GM Chuck Fletcher, he's also getting out and scouting mostly colleges as the Wild looks to increase its pursuit of college free agents. In the previous regime, the Wild signed college free agents Steve Aronson, Travis Roche, John Scott and Mike Madill.
Fletcher says the Wild has "increased the number of eyes in the college free-agent marketplace." This includes Harder, head college scout Brian Hunter and scouts Ernie Vargas and Marty Nanne.
The majority of college free agents -- if they make it -- develop into third- and fourth-liners or fifth and sixth defensemen. But there have been impact college free agents like Dan Boyle, Chris Kunitz, Dustin Penner and Harder's college roommate Andy McDonald.
"I remember I was watching him lift the Cup on TV (with Anaheim in 2007) while I was doing laundry," Harder quipped.
Top college free agents available this year include the University of Massachusetts' Casey Wellman and James Marcou, Princeton's Cam MacIntyre, Minnesota-Duluth's Justin Fontaine and Bemidji State's Matt Read.
"We should be capable of signing a player every year or a player every other year to augment our draft selections with college free agents," Fletcher said.
And maybe it'll be the no-name, minor-league journeyman who unearths the Wild's next big name.