THE first Aussie ever selected in the NHL draft was on the verge of making his Washington Capitals debut according to their coach.
Then he got injured.
But it could merely be a speed-hump along Nathan Walker’s journey to the NHL.
Washington head coach Barry Trotz gave the biggest indication yet that Walker’s long-awaited NHL debut may not be far off after name-checking the Sydney product as one of the players they had hoped to promote from their affiliate team Hershey following the AHL All-Star Break.
Unfortunately a broken hand Walker sustained blocking a shot in Hershey’s 4-2 AHL victory over the Springfield Thunderbirds couldn’t have come at a worse time.
“Nathan Walker was a name that we’re thinking about bringing up and [then] he got hurt,” Trotz said two weeks ago.
“So [Nathan] will be eliminated for a little bit.”
With Walker ruled out of the promotion, Trotz called up forward Chandler Stephenson and defenseman Christian Djoos.
“There’s been a lot of guys that we’ve been happy with that we feel are going to play for us,” the coach said.
“All that being said, we try to take these opportunities when we’re pretty healthy and bring up guys and take a peek at them.”
The Washington Capitals organisation took Walker 89th overall in the 2014 NHL draft, and have watched him develop, battling through injury and form setbacks, to become a key player in the Hershey Bears line-up.
The left wing had a breakthrough season last year with 41 points, was named Hershey’s most improved player and almost won the Calder Cup with the team. So far this season he has 19 points (nine goals, 10 assists) in 42 games.
Walker is expected to miss 4-6 weeks recovering from his recent hand fracture.
The Metropolitan Division leading Capitals are on a six-game winning streak and even when healthy again it won’t be easy for Walker to get his foot in the door on such a stacked, in-form team eyeing another big showing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
But with just 2-4 weeks left sidelined with the injury, there is a possibility Walker could still get a look-in on the Washington roster before the season concludes on April 9, 2017, and finally notch another historic first — the only Aussie to ever play in the NHL.
Melanie Dinjaski covers US Sports for Fox Sports Australia. Follow her on Twitter @MelanieDinjaski
Aussie Nathan Walker scores first hat-trick, season debut, St Louis Blues
Australian-raised ice hockey star Nathan Walker has made history once again, scoring his first NHL hat-trick for the St Louis Blues against the Detroit Red Wings.
Walker was born in Cardiff, Wales but his family moved to Australia when he was two. It was in Australia he grew up and started his hockey journey that took him all the way to the NHL.
While he has largely played in the NHL’s second division in the American Hockey League but had tallied 25 games for the Washington Capitals, Edmonton Oilers and St Louis Blues over the past five years, scoring three goals total.
He doubled that tally in his 26th game in a jaw-dropping performance in the Blues’ 6-2 win over the Red Wings.
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Walker made history in his NHL debut as the first Australia to make the NHL, and every milestone he ticks off adds his name to the history books again.
He scored a goal in his NHL debut for Washington in 2017 but his chances were few and far between as he toiled away in the AHL.
But Walker has made a massive splash for the Blues, scoring a hat-trick in a phenomenal performance against the Red Wings.
Walker was only called up to the NHL yesterday under emergency conditions from the Springfield Thunderbirds as but looked at home on the biggest stage.
The 27-year-old Aussie scored the first two goals by himself, beating Red Wings goalie Alex Nedeljkovic with one shot between his pads and the second a wrist shot over the goalie’s glove.
But it was in the third period that Walker completed the milestone, deflecting a bullet from Blues defenceman Torey Krug, a moment the commentators called “a thing of beauty”.
Speaking after the game Walker was chuffed by the opportunity to make history once again. He was also just the second player to score a hat-trick on season debut in franchise history.
“It was incredible … I was just happy we got the two points and we can move onto the next game now,” he said.
“Every NHL game you can get in makes it worth it. I think over the course of my career in hockey, my family, my wife and my kid, we’ve made a lot of sacrifices and it’s kind of nice when stuff like this happens.”
And Walker’s teammates were thrilled for him as well.
The Blues’ fourth string goalie Charlie Lindgren was thrilled for the Aussie’s man of the match performance.
“It means a lot. I couldn’t be happier for the guy, just an unbelievable guy, unbelievable teammate, unbelievable leader. To see him pot three tonight, I’m so proud of him.”
Before the game, Blues coach Craig Berube said Walker was a “solid player” who works hard for the team.
“He’s a good 200-foot player, he skates well, he competes hard, plays with a lot of energy and emotion, which is good for our hockey team,” Berube said. “He has the ability to score some goals too. He scores in the minors pretty consistently.”
Social media also went nuts for the performance.
Walker previously represented Australia at World Championships before becoming an NHL player and was drafted for the Capitals in 2014 and was part of the squad for the side in its Stanley Cup winning 2018 campaign.
Growing up, Walker played rugby league for the Cronulla Sharks but moved to the Czech Republic as a teenager in order to chase his NHL dream.
Ben Simmons Philadelphia 76ers, trade news, practice, Travis Kelce slams Simmons, NHL, NFL, Philadelphia Eagles,
The Ben Simmons saga has become so bad that other sports are getting dragged into the fray. Now the Australian has received a brutal reality check from one of Philadelphia’s most beloved NFL stars on earning the respect of Philly fans.
Jason Kelce played a key role as the 2017 Eagles won that season’s Super Bowl – their first ever – then dressed up as a ‘Mummer’ (a participant of a unique Philadelphia parade) and gave an inspired speech during their trophy parade.
Now he’s taken aim at Simmons, explaining the fans who are notoriously tough on their own players are simply asking for accountability and hard work.
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“You write your own narrative,” Kelce said, per NBC Sports Philly. “What’s going on, I don’t want to crush any other players, but what’s going on with the 76ers, Ben Simmons, stuff like that. All that is because of a lack of accountability, a lack of owning up to mistakes and a lack of correcting things.
“If all that got corrected, you fix the free throws, if you’re getting better as a player, none of this is happening. Everybody can b***h and complain about how tough this city is to play in. Just play better, man. This city will love you.”
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He added: “This city really appreciates accountability, appreciates people being very honest, real, emotionally invested, caring.
“There’s a lot of people who say it’s a hard place to play. I think it’s pretty f***ing easy, to be honest with you. You just go out there, play hard. Want to be loved in this city as a baseball player? Run to first base. They’re going to f***ing loving you. I mean, that’s what it comes down to. If you go up and make a bunch of excuses, if you come up here and try to lie to them and act like they don’t know what they’re talking about — which, sometimes they don’t — when you act that way or when you aren’t accountable if you’re making mistakes, or when you’re not getting better or anything like that, they’re going to crush you.
“Everybody’s going to get crushed at some point. Everybody’s going to go through a downturn or struggle, right? At all times this city is going to keep you accountable to be doing your job and performing. But if you stick to it, if you fight through it and you get better and everything like that, they’ll respect the hell out of you.
“Even if you’re struggling and you’re fighting and really trying, they’re still going to respect you. That’s what I think most guys miss.”
A former New England Patriots assistant coach also slammed Simmons. Michael Lombardi, who also worked as an executive with four other NFL franchises, tweeted: “Ben Simmons is embarrassing himself now —not even his ardent defenders can support his behaviour. Believe what you see.”
It’s not just NFL where Simmons’ situation is making a mark. In the NHL, “F**k you Simmons” chants rang out during the Philadelphia Flyers’ 6-3 win over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night (local).
TNT’s broadcasters at Wells Fargo Center even took digs at Simmons being booted from practice during the game.
As Flyers fans left the game, more “f**k Ben Simmons” chants were yelled.
But the biggest impact is still being felt by Simmons’ Sixers.
Despite Simmons missing the season opener, Philadelphia smashed New Orleans 117-97. But that didn’t stop the Pelicans fans from delighting in the Australian’s absence.
The crowd at Smoothie King centre repeatedly chanted “Where’s Ben Simmons?” during the game. And whenever a 76ers player took a free throw, those chants became louder – a reference to Simmons’ woeful 34.2 per cent shooting from the charity stripe in the 2021 playoffs.
On one occasion, Sixers star Joel Embiid was on the receiving end of sarcastic chants by fans declaring: “We want Simmons.”
What made ‘The Great One’ great? Wayne Gretzky arrives in Sydney for USA v Canada Ice Hockey Classic, NHL
WAYNE Gretzky was never the biggest, strongest or fastest guy on the ice. A lanky figure with a gentle smile, he didn’t look much like his NHL counterparts. But somehow Gretzky ascended to become a legend of the sport. So what is it that helped make ‘The Great One’ great?
In a career spanning twenty years Gretzky stacked 61 official NHL records, (60 of which he still holds), including the most goals (1,016) and most assists (2,223). He’s won the Stanley Cup four times with the Edmonton Oilers and won the Hart Trophy, the league MVP award, on a record nine occasions.
When it comes to ice hockey, there’s Wayne Gretzky — light years — and then everyone else.
The word ‘legacy’ is sometimes overused when reflecting upon the achievements of our sporting heroes, but few compare to the legacy left by Gretzky.
Looking back, it’s not his records or accolades he’s most proud of though. It’s the effort he put in.
“People ask me all the time, if someone said ‘How would you like to be remembered?’ I always say the same thing: I played a lot of bad games but I know in my heart that I played hard every single game,” Gretzky told Fox Sports Australia.
“People came up to me and they said ‘You worked hard out there,’ and to me, that’s the biggest compliment I can get.”
Canada’s favourite son had many great mentors throughout his playing career, like his father Walter, and ‘Mr Hockey’ Gordie Howe — who tragically passed away just this month.
However Gretzky credits his grandparents for instilling in him the grit and determination that would make him a legend.
“I probably got that from my grandparents,” Gretzky said.
“My grandfather [Tony] was from Belarus, part of the Soviet Union at the time. In 1920 he came over with my grandmother [Mary] who was from Warsaw, and they both went to North America.
“They both worked through to their early 80s. They had a farm, and they did all their own farming, so I think the work ethic that I had as a player was inherited from my grandparents.”
That farm is where a young Gretzky would watch ice hockey on TV with his family. It’s also where he first pulled on the skates and picked up his stick.
Greatness would soon follow as he rocketed through the junior ranks and made his professional debut at the age of 17 in the WHA (now defunct), before joining the Oilers in the NHL the very next year and creating NHL history playing for Edmonton, the Los Angeles Kings, St Louis Blues and New York Rangers.
Even after his playing days, he continues to be an ambassador for the sport, currently visiting Australia for the USA vs Canada Ice Hockey Classic that bears his name.
“Hockey has been so good to me in my life and everything I have is because of hockey, so I think that we can help promote the game and get everyone to see how great of a sport it really is,” Gretzky said.
“The game fares well in colder climate places. Kids in Canada can skate on lakes and ponds in the winter and it doesn’t cost parents any money. But we’re getting much bigger now with San Jose, LA, Anaheim, more kids are playing, and the first pick in the NHL Draft this week will be from Phoenix, Arizona [Auston Matthews], which nobody ever thought would be possible.
“So it’s growing, it just takes time and hopefully twenty years from now, people over here are going to say ‘Wow, this is a fun sport’.”
Gretzky said getting more kids to watch and play ice hockey is what will help it grow Down Under. He also praised Australia’s first (and only) NHL draftee Nathan Walker for helping that cause.
“I heard he plays hard and he has some great abilities, and had a strong season [with Washington Capitals affiliated AHL team Hershey Bears]. It only helps our sport,” Gretzky said.
Sydney fans will be in for a treat Saturday night when Gretzky takes to the ice in a four-on-four exhibition prior to the main event.
The five-stop Australian tour has already been a hit in Melbourne, Perth, and Adelaide, with Sydney and Brisbane the final games left on the schedule.
Gretzky has also brought along his 25-year-old son Ty, a keen player himself who now works for his dad’s hockey camps and is expected to play in Sydney.
As for what ‘The Great One’ will get up to in his downtime while in town, just don’t expect golf to be on his itinerary, despite his son-in-law Dustin Johnson’s triumph at the US Open last week.
“I don’t get any golf tips,” Gretzky said.
“My golf upside is about as good as his hockey upside… which is not very good.”
Wayne Gretzky will be at the Qudos Bank Arena for the USA vs Canada Ice Hockey Classic.
Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne: Friday 17 June, 2016
Perth Arena, Perth: Saturday 18 June, 2016
Adelaide Entertainment Centre, Adelaide: Friday 24 June, 2016
Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney: Saturday 25 June, 2016
Brisbane Entertainment Centre, Brisbane: Saturday 2 July, 2016
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