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Caps prospect Nathan Walker hopes to put Australia on hockey map
“The Mighty Ducks,” a hockey-based comedy movie released in 1992, has a footnote that probably isn’t listed on any DVD cases.
It caused a little family upheaval in the Land Down Under.
Wayne and Kerry Walker of Sydney, watched the movie with their sons Ryan, now 26, and Nathan, now 19. Ryan was so taken with the thought of hockey that he wanted to give it a try. Nathan, like many little brothers, wanted to do whatever his older sibling did.
Nothing wrong with any of that, except hockey isn’t what you’d call big in Australia.
“If Alex Ovechkin walked down the street, I don’t think anybody would recognize him,” Nathan Walker said. “The game isn’t very popular at all. Cricket, rugby, some soccer. Those are the three main sports. There’s only a handful who play hockey.”
Ryan moved to Minnesota to play hockey at the high school level and he’s now back in Sydney. Nathan moved to the Czech Republic when he was 13 to play there before coming to the United States last season to play for the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL.
Nathan’s one of 24 players in town for the Capitals’ rookie camp at the Kettler Iceplex, which runs through Monday when the Caps’ rookies square off against the Flyers’ rookies.
Of the 24, Tom Wilson is the one with a strong chance of actually sticking with the Caps this season. He played three games in the playoffs with the big club last season.
Walker and the others are hoping to make enough of an impression to be part of the Caps’ future. An undrafted free agent, Walker probably has more work to do than most, but Caps coach Adam Oates has taken notice.
“He was here two development camps ago,” Oates said. “He looks a little quicker and a little more poised with the puck. He’s someone I’m looking to see how he plays in the game.”
If Walker does make it to the NHL, it would be a first.
According to hockey-reference.com, players from Canada, the United States (37 states plus the District of Columbia) and 37 other countries have been represented on NHL rosters.
There have been two NHL players from Japan and two born in Korea. Indonesia, Taiwan and Haiti are all represented.
Australia? No one. Yet.
“I definitely have a lot of work to do, but I believe if you set your mind to something you can achieve it,” Walker said. “I think I can get to that level one day if I keep working hard, keep pushing hard.”
Walker said it wasn’t easy leaving home when he was just entering his teens.
He knew if he wanted to continue to grow in hockey, it was necessary.
Getting ice time was an issue in Sydney. A scout who saw him at a youth tournament suggested he move and helped arrange a tryout. That led him to the Czech Republic, where he played seven seasons with the Vitkovice Steel hockey club.
He had 22 goals in 28 games playing for the under-18 team in 2009-10, 20 goals in 35 games playing for the U-20 team in 2010-11.
Last season, his first in the States, Walker had seven goals and 20 assists in 29 games in the top junior league in the country.
“I’m probably not the biggest guy on the ice,” said Walker, who is generously listed at 5 feet 10 inches tall, 185 pounds on the rookie camp roster. “But I feel like I’m always working hard, trying to win as many battles as I can — even against a guy who is 6-8.”
Walker gets home for about three months every year. The bouts of homesickness come less often than they used to, but when they do, he takes out his phone and calls his only brother.
“He tells me to chill out,” Walker said. “I’m pursuing what I want.”
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About the Author
Washington Times sports editor Mike Harris has more than 30 years experience in the business as a reporter, columnist and manager. He’s covered a wide variety of events including two Olympics, horse racing, auto racing, professional and college sports. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow the section on Twitter @WashTimesSports.
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