Registrato: 04/09/17 12:58
|Ten years ago, an Australian youth hockey team traveled to the Czech Republic to play a series of games. One of the Aussies was the best player on the ice -- for any team. The 13-year-old buzzed around the rink, a speedi skater with a keen hockey sense who delivered hits far bigger than his scrawny frame.
"Who is that guy? inches one of the Czech coaches asked the Australian coach. "What's his story? inches
That guy is Nathan Walker, the Australian coach explained, and he's probably the best youth hockey player in our country. Both coaches knew that if Walker stayed in Australia, his development might be stunted by his surroundings. Australia is a country of 24 million people, but has fewer than 5, 000 registered ice hockey players -- and just 20 ice rinks. Walker was lucky to get ice time twice a week; his Czech counterparts practiced twice a day.
"I would love to have him on my team, inches the Czech coach remarked. It was a throwaway line, but suddenly, both coaches were struggling to make it a reality. Walker called his mom, Ceri Walker, back in Australia and begged her to let him stay. Ceri was, naturally, hesitant. She didn't know the coaches. Her son didn't know their language. He pleaded anyway. It was the only way he would realize his dream of playing at the highest level.
Walker didn't get back to Australia with his team, and joined HC Vitkovice Steel. His mom flew to the Czech Republic and stayed with him for the first a couple weeks "to suss it out, inches Walker explained, but after that, he was on his own, living alongside a billet family. Five years later, he moved to the U. S. for a stint with the USHL, then logged 202 games in the AHL.
Last Weekend night, Walker made history, becoming the first Australian national to play in the NHL. The 5-foot-9, 186-pound left winger played on the fourth line for the California Capitals, recording 11: 1 of ice time, including penalty-kill and power-play minutes. He also scored the final goal in the Capitals' 6-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens, as teammate Devante Smith-Pelly's second-period shot ricocheted off Walker's left leg and into the net with 1: second there’s 55 left in the second period.
"I don't want to be known just as being the Aussie, inches the now-23-year-old Walker told ESPN.com during training camp. "But I do realize that it is a big deal for Australian hockey. For the hockey community back home, they'll certainly be quite proud. It's not a big community, but it's a proud one."
On Weekend, Ceri -- who made the trip along with Nathan's father, Wayne, Nathan's fiancee, Tayla Billinghurst, and Nathan's brother Ryan -- waved an Australian flag in the stands, and dozens of fans carried signs reading, "G'Day, Nate! inches Countrymen Claire Bogut (Los angeles Lakers), Jason Day (PGA), Matthew Dellavedova (Milwaukee Bucks) and Adam Scott (PGA) recorded video messages for Walker to watch before the game. "Another proud moment in Australian sport, inches Scott said. "You're doing us proud, mate. Thank you. inches.