Nathan Walker is not your typical hockey player. He lives in Australia, a place better known for producing rugby players as opposed to hockey players. At 5’8” he doesn’t seem like he’d be the prototypical tough guy, but “Walks” doesn’t back down from anyone on the ice. But, if you ask him, Walker has always been trying to outdo someone – his older brother, Ryan, who just may have been Australia’s first ever NHL draft pick if not for an injury that effectively ended his career and opened that door for Nathan.
“My older brother played when I was younger and as the younger brother you want to try and do what he’s doing and beat him at it, but he played so I just wanted to play,” said Walker, who also admitted that the Mighty Ducks had a pretty big influence on him as well.
“He’ll never admit it, but he played high school hockey in Minnesota for Faribault. Unfortunately he had a pretty serious injury which held him back for a year and he tried to get back into it, but I guess he wasn’t feeling it anymore, but it’s really unfortunate because he was probably one of the better players to come out of Australia. We’re really competitive whatever we’re doing whether it be shooting hoops or throwing a baseball – whoever can throw it harder and try to hurt the other person’s hand. We’re really competitive.”
Competitive or not, Nathan is currently enjoying Ryan’s visit to Hershey for the holidays. He also noted that his parents visited last year around this time. By now, Nathan is used to being away from home.
In 2007-2008, Nathan left Australia for the Czech Republic where he began playing for HC Vitkovice, playing for their U18 and U20 teams and several other Czech teams through 2012-2013.
“That was really huge. That’s where I really developed my game,” recalled Walker. “We were on the ice back in Australia once a week, but in Czech we’re on the ice twice a day, which is really going to help the development.”
But by 2013 he was ready for the next step. He signed with the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL and later attended a training camp that year with the Washington Capitals. Then he joined the Hershey Bears later that year. Because he had not been drafted, at the end of the season, he returned to Australia to await word on the draft with his anxious family.
“It was huge. We were just watching the live feed back home and it actually stopped on the TV, so we weren’t watching it then, but I checked my phone and I got a message from my agent. I just went and sat down, I didn’t say anything at first, until the feed kicked back on and once the feed kicked back on, we looked up the names that were up there and the family was going nuts. I think Mom was crying, so it was pretty big,” said Walker who had become the first Australian taken in the NHL draft.
But, according to him, he is not a national treasure. “No I wouldn’t say that too much,” he said with a laugh. “Maybe among the hockey community, which isn’t too big back home. But the community is very proud about hockey and hopefully the sport can keep on growing and developing back home.”
For now, he’s content to be in Hershey.
“The billboard says it all – Sweetest Place on Earth – it’s a great little city,” admitted Walker. “The people here are really nice, the hockey’s great, we get treated really well. That’s probably it. They take care of the players really well here.”
That’s not to say that he has plans to stay in Hershey for his career. After all, what third round pick would be? So, he’s using this time to develop his skill set to impress at camp next season.
“Just my defensive game and little plays in tight, and stick plays,” Walker said when asked what he is honing this season. “The hockey IQ needs to get a little better too I think. Just overall, everything just needs to be one step higher, those little details need to be a little better. That’s what I’m working on everyday, and hopefully they take notice of that and we can keep going from there.”
Just the Facts
Drafted: 2014 Round 3 (#89) by the Washington Capitals
DOB: February 7, 1994
First AHL Goal: October 27, 2013 for Hershey against Norfolk
First AHL Point: October 27, 2013 for Hershey against Norfolk
He Said It
After a recent game, I sat down with Nathan and asked him to finish a few sentences that I started.
Teammate I’d never want to fight – Zach Sill
Opposing player I hope drops the gloves – I don’t know about that one. Gazley and I will always trip each other. If we were on different teams we would fight each other, but that’s probably about it
I try to model my game after – Probably a bit like Brendan Gallagher from Montreal I think
I started playing hockey when I was – 5 or 6 I think for a club team in Australia
My favorite sport other than hockey is – I like rugby
If I wasn’t playing hockey I would – be surfing maybe
My Czech teammates – “are, I don’t know if it’s appropriate to say, but, no they’re a good laugh. They’re funny – I’d say we just go with funny. I speak Czech, so I speak with Vrana and Vanecek every now and then. It gives them a smile. I’m probably not saying it right, but as long as they get a laugh about it. ”
Walker on life in Australia – It’s a good lifestyle back there. You got the beaches. There’s lots of water activities to do. The weather’s pretty nice. It’s a really fun culture.
Walker on Vanecek’s English – He speaks English pretty well. I remember the first time I met him and you’d ask him how he was and what he was doing that day and he’d just say, “Good.” so his English has come a long way and I don’t think he needs a translator anymore.
Hershey VP of Hockey Operations, Bryan Helmer, on Walker’s potential in the NHL – “Nathan’s he put himself in a good position after the playoffs last year. He did really well for us in the playoffs and he put himself on the radar in Washington and had a good training camp and I think he’s got off to a pretty good start here. I’d love to see him get his chance in the NHL and I think if he keeps going the way he is, he’s going to get his chance in the NHL. He just has to keep his game simple and work hard and be that little pest out there and he’s good at it. When he gets opposing players off their game, that’s his job and if he chips in with points, that’s a bonus. He’s got a great attitude and works hard, so I’m really pulling for him and I hope he gets that chance.”
By Julie Beidler @juliebeidler