Ice Hockey 1.01: Austalia’s Presence in the NHL

Australia is a sport obsessed country and is represented in more top-level competitions than would statistically make sense for a country sitting 53rd on the population ladder.

 

For the NFL, the high-profile Australians include Jarryd Hayne, Sav Rocca, Ben Graham, and Darren Bennett. For the NBA, which has seen 27 Australians enter the highest competition in the world, the names on the list include Shane Heal, Matthew Dellavedova, Patty Mills, Ben Simmons, and Luc Longley (who won three championships alongside Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman, and Scottie Pippen). Even Major League Baseball has seen quite a number of Australians.

 

For the NHL, it’s a little bit of a different story.

 

In the entire history of the NHL, there has only been one Australian to play in their ranks. Nathan Walker, a 27-year-old, is currently signed with the St. Louis Blues is the sole Aussie in the NHL’s 103-year history.

 

Source: Wikicommons

 

The life of Nathan Walker

 

Born in 1994 in Cardiff, Wales, Nathan’s family moved to Australia when he was two years old. Much like myself, Nathan was inspired to play hockey by the film series The Mighty Ducks as well as watching his older brother play. He began his hockey journey at the tender age of 6 and proceeded to refine his skills to a point where he was outplaying players as old as 20 at the age of 13.

 

Soon after, Nathan was setting records in his Under 14 and Under 16 leagues and showing his ability to dominate the competition. So much so, Nathan travelled to the Czech Republic to play in a league that was tougher than the competition in Australia so that he could develop into the strongest player possible.

 

In 2012, the NHL Scouting Bureau released a list of draft prospects and Walker was listed as the 25th best ice skater in Europe.

 

The move to the big leagues

 

In his effort to find his way into the professional leagues, Nathan regularly found himself on the wrong side of NHL rules and regulations in regard to eligibility to sign with a team. After tryouts with the NHL team the Washington Capitals in 2013, Walker was forced to wait until the 2014 NHL draft to be eligible to sign with a team. He was picked 89th overall in the draft and became the first Australian to ever be picked in an NHL draft.

 

Walker signed a three-year deal with the Washington Capitals although, he would not make his NHL debut during this contract. During his contract period of 2014 – 2017, Walker played for the Capitals affiliate teams the Hershey Bears and the South Carolina Stingrays. During this time, he was given several team awards including Most Improved, Unsung Hero, and Man of the Year. After his three years playing only with the affiliate teams and never having received a call up to the NHL list, he was signed for another two-year contract.

 

On 7 October 2017, Nathan Walker was named in the Washington Capitals team list for the opening night of the 2017-2018 NHL season. This was the very first NHL-level game an Australian had ever played in.

 

I remember the build-up to this game and the pride my brothers and I felt as Nathan Walker took to the ice for the very first time. None of us as Washington Capitals fans, in fact, one of my brothers detests them. However, this was above any one team. This was about making NHL history and, hopefully, inspiring Australians here at home to get involved with the game.

 

In the first NHL game of his career, Nathan Walker did what we, at home watching, could only dream of. In the second period of the game, Nathan Walker scored the very first NHL goal of his career. Now, the only thing I will add to this is that it actually wasn’t clear that he scored the goal in the first place. It was only after a closer look at the replay that the officials gave the goal to Walker as they saw that he had redirected the puck mid-flight with his stick causing the puck to zip past the goalie. It wasn’t exactly how I had hoped the first goal would come about, but there was a good round of cheers once the correction had been announced.

 


 

Months later, Walker would play his very first NHL playoffs games for the Washington Capitals and the team eventually went on to beat the Vegas Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup Championship. In just his first NHL season, Nathan had become the first Australian to, among many other things, win a Stanley Cup.

 

True (St Louis) Blue Aussie

 

After his years with the Capitals, Walker signed a two-year contract with the St Louis Blues ending in 2021. The Blues are currently in a playoff series against the Colorado Avalanche, however, it is uncertain whether or not he will get a chance to play as he is currently on a list of players who are ‘Unavailable due to COVID protocol’.

 

The NHL, much like most professional sports, is a difficult and unforgiving industry. You are competing for contracts and time on the ice against the best in the world. Nothing is ever given, and every opportunity is earned. I hope that Nathan Walker’s story influences more Aussies to give ice hockey a go and represent us in the biggest league in the world.

 

 

 

To read more of Ice Hockey 1.01 by James click HERE

 

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Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

 

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