Walker hopes NHL can keep growing in Australia with Global Series

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Walker’s Aspirations for NHL Growth in Australia Through Global Series

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Nathan Walker, the First Australian in the NHL, Welcomes the League to His Home Country

Nathan Walker, the first Australian to play in the NHL, grew up with limited access to the League’s games and could only dream of witnessing them in his homeland. Now, he’s thrilled that the NHL is making its debut in the Southern Hemisphere. The Arizona Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings are set to compete in two preseason matches at Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena on Saturday and Sunday as part of the 2023 NHL Global Series – Melbourne.

For me, as an Australian, I think it’s fantastic for the sport of hockey, said Walker. I hope it raises more awareness about the game.

Walker’s historic NHL debut occurred on October 7, 2017, when he scored a goal for the Washington Capitals in a 6-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens at Capital One Arena. Over the course of his NHL career with the Capitals, Edmonton Oilers, and Blues, he has accumulated 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists) in 111 games, as well as one assist in five Stanley Cup Playoff appearances.

The Inspiring Journey of Nathan Walker: Paving the Way for Future Australian Hockey Players

Nathan Walker’s remarkable journey to the NHL serves as an inspiring tale of determination and passion for the game of hockey. Born in Cardiff, Wales, Walker relocated to Sydney with his family at the age of 2. His love for hockey was ignited by witnessing a local beer league game, which left an indelible mark on him and his older brother, Ryan.

We just went to a hockey rink and kind of watched, like, a beer league game, and we just kind of loved it and thought we’d give it a try,” Walker recounted. “And ever since then, we’ve both kind of loved the game and loved the sport.

Walker’s introduction to ice and inline hockey began at the tender age of 5 or 6. His passion for the sport only grew as he watched hockey movies like “The Mighty Ducks” and “Mystery, Alaska” and studied hockey highlights from DVDs acquired during a visit to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. However, there was a significant hurdle—he couldn’t easily watch NHL games in Australia as they weren’t televised, and the internet was still in its early stages.

By the time Walker turned 11, he was playing in three different divisions simultaneously: U13, U15, and U18. However, it soon became apparent that there wasn’t enough high-level hockey for him in Australia. Recognizing his potential, a Slovakian coach advised him to leave the country if he wanted to pursue a hockey career seriously.

This pivotal moment led to a tryout in Vitkovice, Czech Republic, some 10,000 miles from home. Walker’s determination paid off, and he earned a spot on the team. Over the next six years, he honed his skills in Europe, competing against increasingly tough opponents and climbing the ranks.

The journey wasn’t without its challenges. In his first year in the Czech Republic, he lived with a family that didn’t speak English, and he didn’t speak Czech. Communication relied on hand gestures until he gained proficiency in the language. Subsequently, he lived independently in a dormitory.

While in Europe, Walker still represented Australia on various platforms. He played for the Sydney Ice Dogs in the semi-pro Australian Ice Hockey League, donned the national colors in the IIHF World Championship’s lower divisions in 2011 and 2012, and won gold in the 2011 Division II Group A tournament in Melbourne.

In the 2011-12 season, Walker achieved another milestone by becoming the first Australian to play professional hockey in Europe’s top Czech league. His impressive journey caught the attention of the Washington Capitals, leading to invitations to their development camps.

During the 2012-13 season, Walker embarked on his North American debut, playing for Youngstown in the United States Hockey League. There, he showcased his skills, tallying 27 points in 29 games. His performance earned him a tryout with the Capitals and subsequently a contract with the Hershey Bears in the American Hockey League.

Walker’s perseverance paid off when the Washington Capitals selected him in the third round (No. 89) of the 2014 NHL Draft. This historic moment marked his ascent as the first Australian drafted to the NHL, defying all odds.

His remarkable journey reached its pinnacle when he made his NHL debut. His jersey now resides in the Hockey Hall of Fame, alongside the very DVDs that fueled his passion as a child.

Throughout his career, Walker played one postseason game during the Capitals’ 2018 Stanley Cup victory, achieved his first NHL hat trick with the St. Louis Blues in December 2021, and completed his first full NHL season in 2022, tallying 10 points in 56 games for St. Louis.

Nathan Walker’s story serves as a testament to unwavering dedication, illustrating that dreams can be realized through relentless determination, even when the path is unconventional and fraught with challenges. His journey continues to inspire future generations of Australian hockey players, offering hope and motivation to follow in his footsteps.

Nathan Walker’s Heroics: A Hat-Trick Against the Red Wings and the Evolving Hockey Landscape in Australia”

The path from Australia to the NHL, or even higher-level hockey, remains a challenging journey. Kale Costa, a 21-year-old forward hailing from Sydney, is currently in his ninth season playing hockey in the Czech Republic. The struggles persist, but there have been significant changes that have eased the process, especially when it comes to following the NHL from Australia.

Today, with the advent of streaming services, social media, and video games, the accessibility to the NHL has drastically improved. ESPN also televises NHL games in Australia, further enhancing the exposure to the sport.

Nathan Walker, a trailblazer for Australian hockey, acknowledges these changes, saying, “Oh, yeah, 100 percent. I mean, the Internet’s changed a lot, I think, since I was younger. You can pretty much have every game at your disposal, the highlights. You go into a hockey shop in Australia, and they’re playing some sort of hockey on the TV. I think there’s a lot more exposure to ice hockey in Australia now than there was when I was a kid.”

The upcoming NHL visit to Australia promises to amplify this exposure even more. Walker envisions Australian hockey enthusiasts witnessing NHL action firsthand, Australian sports fans discovering their country’s own ice hockey league, the AIHL, and new fans being captivated by the sport when they experience it live. After all, Walker’s own hockey journey began when he watched a humble beer league game.

“A lot of people are excited for the games,” he remarked. “A lot of my buddies have got tickets to go down to Melbourne and watch them, so I think the whole hockey community’s really excited for it. It’ll be good if people that didn’t really know much about hockey were going to it and getting excited about it as well.”

While Walker returns home during the offseason, he stays committed to his training regimen. He diligently works out in a gym he constructed in his in-laws’ backyard and skates with the Sydney Ice Dogs at Macquarie Ice Rink in the Sydney suburbs. Occasionally, he manages to secure some ice time for himself, although it’s far removed from the NHL arenas, with no glass above the boards.

As he continues his NHL career, Walker envisions the possibility of returning to the AIHL in the future. Such a move would see him give back to the game that has shaped his life and serve as an inspiration to aspiring young Australian hockey players.

“I wouldn’t say I’ve thought about it too much,” he admitted, “but I think it’s definitely a possibility, I mean, whenever I do end up going home and calling it a career, I guess. I’d love to go down there and kind of help the game and see if I can grow it any more. Yeah, I wouldn’t mind lacing them up for a couple more times back home.

References

https://www.nhl.com/news/australian-nathan-walker-excited-to-play-in-nhl-global-series-melbourne

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