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Prof Bill Harris

Professor Bill Harris has been single-handedly responsible for maintaining, developing, co-ordinating and delivering the ice hockey programme in Cambridge for over a quarter of a century.

When Bill, a Canadian from Toronto, came to the university town in 1997, he was surprised to discover that, despite the university’s ice hockey club having been established over a century earlier in 1885, and having a distinguished playing record, it had never had a rink to call its own.

After he was further told that a former captain of the team, wealthy Canadian David Gattiker, had recently bequeathed £1 million towards a ‘permanent ice hockey facility’, he immediately made it his mission to get one built.

He led a 22-year-long fund-raising campaign, turning the initial million into £5.5 million, with £2.5 million donated by the university. Many obstacles had to be overcome along the way, including finding the land and acquiring planning permission.

Thanks mainly to Bill, the dream eventually became a reality. The 1,000-capacity Cambridge Ice Arena – known locally as the Gattiker Ice Rink – was completed and opened in August 2019. It now hosts seven teams and is proving to be highly popular with the new generation of hockey players in Cambridgeshire. A plaque in the changing room honours his role in its creation.

Nationally, he provided support and advice in establishing the British Universities Ice Hockey Association in the early 2000s. This currently comprises 24 teams of both sexes, in rinks from Glasgow to Gosport.

At Cambridge University, he is head coach of the Cambridge University Ice Hockey Club, and has to date guided the men’s Light Blues through 28 annual Varsity Matches against their great adversaries, the University of Oxford.

The inter-varsity rivalry was established in the late 19th century and is recognised by the IIHF and the Hockey Hall of Fame as the one of the oldest continuous fixtures in world hockey. Prof Harris’s input and influence is credited with keeping the tradition going well into the 21st century.

He was also instrumental in bringing together under one umbrella the University’s men’s and women’s teams, and helped to set up the Huskies, the entry point for newcomers to Cambridge University ice hockey.

Whenever he can, Bill plays on defence (at the age of 72) for the recreation team, the Cambridge Narwhals, which is part of the local community. Another of his passions is inline hockey and he presides over the Cambridge Lightning, which he formed in 1998.

A highly accomplished neuro-scientist, Prof Harris’s academic prowess is internationally recognised. He is Professor Emeritus of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge, a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge and a Fellow of the Royal Society in London.

For his exceptional work in his field, he has been awarded numerous prizes, most notably in 2017 the Waddington Medal by the British Society for Developmental Biology for his work on the development of the visual system.

Professor William Anthony Harris was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on 26 November 1950.He was inducted into the Ice Hockey UK Hall of Fame in 2023.