Washington Capitals sign Australian Nathan Walker

Photo: capsinpictures.com
Photo: capsinpictures.com

Even if he doesn’t leave a legacy on the ice, Nathan Walker will go down in the hockey history books.

The Washington Capitals have signed Walker to a three year entry level contract making him the first Australian to play in the big leagues.

It’s been a long time coming for Walker who was originally born in Wales, UK but made Australia his home at an early age. The 20 year old Aussie has worked through the hockey system the hard way. Coming from a country in the southern hemisphere and one that is not particularly a hockey hotbed, it’s safe to say he was far from the radar of many scouts.

Hockey always has an eye for talent though. In 2007 Walker made the jump from youth hockey in Australia to suiting up for the U18 HC Vitkovice in the Czech Republic. Between them and the U20 team, Walker made a name for himself as a fast and stick skilled winger. At 17, he played in the Spengler Cup.

The benefit of being a hockey player from Australia is using the North American off-season to continue playing top level hockey in your home country. The Australian Ice Hockey League takes place during Australia’s winter which is Canada and the United States’ summer. Walker got to hone his craft all year round. Scouts finally took notice.

The Youngstown Phantoms of the United States Hockey League took a liking to this young lad and offered a chance. One that proved to be successful as Walker was almost a point a game player. Good thing too as the brass from the Washington Capitals took a liking and kept their eye on him. Signed to a developmental deal and invited to development camp, the Capitals sent the young 19 year old down to Hershey. The Bears were having a pretty good season on their own when Walker suited up for 43 games.

CapitalsDevelepmentCampDay4-8-of-46Impressing the folks with the Caps proved necessary and Walker did just that. He not only became history as the first Australian to be selected in an NHL Draft (2014, 3rd round, 89th overall), but he is now the first Australian to be signed to an NHL contract.

It doesn’t matter where you come from or where you play the game. If you’re good, you’re good. Someone will catch their eye on you eventually. The hockey world is small and filled with connections upon connections of people who spread the abilities of players through word of mouth. A note to players all over the world: Don’t ever give up hope.

The Washington Capitals open up their 2014/2015 season at home on October 9th when the Montreal Canadiens come to play.

Remember that date. It’ll be the answer to a trivia question some day.

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The heartwarming story of the Canberra Brave

Screen-Shot-2014-03-24-at-6.37.41-pm-640x360For us Canadians, when one thinks of Australia, one doesn’t correlate hockey to the country. In regards to sports, we think of rugby, softball or anything to do with the water. However, hockey has been played in some variation for over a hundred years down in the Southern Hemisphere. In fact, the Goodall Cup, which the teams of the 14 year Australian Ice Hockey League play for, is the third oldest hockey trophy in the world.

The first reported case of ice hockey came in Melbourne as a local team squared off against an American crew fresh off the USS Baltimore. That one game took place in 1906 and sparked a hockey passion with the Aussies.

The story of the Canberra Brave starts with its predecessor, the Canberra Knights. The Knights came to fruition in 1981 by a bunch of former hockey players who had no place to play in the area. They played out of the then New South Wales Superleague, out of Sydney. For 13 years, the Knights struggled but gained more than a handful of hockey experience. One young lad, originally from Canada, had a standout year and managed to be drafted by the Detroit Red Wings. He landed himself the third string goalie spot and hung on to a Stanley Cup victory in 2002.

Canberra_Knights_LogoCanberra continued to grow its ice hockey prowess by playing in the East Coast Super League for five years after the demolition of the NSWSL. When a national league came into light in the year 2000, the Knights, and two others squads made the foundation of the Australian Ice Hockey League that we know today. Continue reading “The heartwarming story of the Canberra Brave”

Land Down Under! The Australian Ice Hockey League

My Q&A with New Zealand goaltender Justin Findlay earlier in the week got me interested in researching a couple of leagues that are south of the equator. This is the first of our look at the two biggest leagues.

Australian_Ice_Hockey_League_LogoThe Australian Ice Hockey League (AIHL) is a semi professional league and a member of the IIHF. The AIHL is played a little different in that their periods are 15 minutes long rather then the usual 20. Formed in 2000, it hosts 9 teams all across the country.

The regular season start around April and finished up in the beginning of September to get ready for the playoffs. Players then play for the Goodall Cup Championship.

The AIHL has attracted NHL stars such as Steve McKenna and Rob Zamuner. Personally I’ve taken a liking to the Melbourne Ice. I’ve been following the season this year even though the games are in the middle of the night on my side of the world. It’s great hockey and should do any hockey fan proud.

Check out some highlights from least year’s final: