Gordon Bombay and his motley crew of a hockey team called the Mighty Ducks entertained many children in the 90s. Goldberg's clumsiness manned the net. Charlie Conway was the impeccable leader. There was the knuckle puck, the triple deke, the flying V. The movie inspired many young kids to try ice hockey, and that included Nathan Walker.
Did we mention that Walker grew up in Australia?
His older brother was already playing hockey, which got him interested in the sport. But Walker said his love for the game came after watching The Mighty Ducks when he was 4.
"Mighty Ducks had a big role in it," Walker said. "The movie had a big influence."
From watching the Mighty Ducks in Australia to playing in the NHL for the Washington Capitals ... how that's for Hollywood? Well, Walker is close to pulling this off.
On the second day of the 2014 NHL draft last month, the 20-year-old Walker waited eagerly on the couch as he watched the selections. Then at 2 a.m. -- he was in Sydney -- Walker got a message from his agent. In the third round, the Capitals were selecting Walker, the first ever Australian drafted in the NHL.
"The roof in the house pretty much blew up," Walker said in a press conference at the Capitals development camp. "Mom and Dad were both crying. It was a special time."
Walker joins a very rare collection of professional hockey players with Australian ties. Tommy Dunderdale was born in Benalla, Australia, and played in many professional hockey games in Canada in the early 1900s. Dunderdale is the only Australian in the Hockey Hall of Fame, but he played before the official formation of the NHL. Jason Elliot, a Canadian, suited up as a goaltender in the Australian Ice Hockey League. Elliot was also the third goalie for the Detroit Red Wings in their 2002 Stanley Cup championship season. Though he was awarded a Stanley Cup ring, Elliot never played a single NHL game.
"This is a historic event for the sport Down Under," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. "And having Nathan drafted, we look forward to seeing many more Aussies in years to come."
Walker began his career in the New South Wales Ice Hockey League, where he struggled to find serious competition. In 2007, playing in an under-14 league, Walker scored 77 goals and 25 assists in just 14 games. Walker continued to play competition that was much older than him, and continued to dominate. To continue his growth as a player, Walker had to find better competition.
At just the age of 13, Walker moved to the Czech Republic to advance his hockey career. Although it was a hard decision, Walker felt it was necessary, and had the right support system to help him along the way.
"It was difficult, going to a place where you don't speak the language, a different culture," Walker said. "Everyone pushed me through it. All of my friends and family back home were really supportive. It was really good that I had the support."
Walker learned to speak Czech and became comfortable in his new country. Walker hooked up with the HC Vitkovice Steel club in the Czech Extraliga. By the 2011 season, Walker was the youngest player in the league, and the first Australian to play professional hockey in Europe.
Walker began to attract NHL scouts. Eligible for the 2012 draft, Walker was the 21st ranked European prospect, but was not selected. He continued playing hockey, leading up to the 2013 draft, and was again skipped over. Walker never lost faith.
"It just gave me more motivation to want to get drafted the next year," Walker said. "It gave me a lot more motivation to work that extra bit harder and push myself that little bit harder."
In both 2012 and 2013, Walker was invited to the Washington Capitals development camp. Walker participated in preseason games in 2013, and continued to work with the organization. But Walker was barred from signing an NHL contract, due to an NHL rule that states that any player that played in Europe within the last year and is under the age of 20 cannot do so. He was, however, able to sign an American Hockey League contract, and joined the Capitals' affiliate, the Hershey Bears. Walker played 43 games and recorded five goals, six assists and 40 penalty minutes.
In his final year of draft eligibility, Walker wasn't even projected in the top 100 players, according to The Hockey News. But the Capitals wanted to bring Walker back, and traded their two fourth-round picks in exchange for the New York Rangers' third-round pick to prove it.
"It's a big thing," Walker said. "It means they have confidence in me, and I really appreciate that."
New assistant GM Ross Mahoney knew Walker well, and didn't want to risk losing him.
"Once you've targeted a player, you want to make sure you get him," Mahoney said in a press conference at the NHL draft. "We would rather do what we have to do in order to move up and make sure we get the player that we want rather than sit back and hope that that player is still there."
Walker's achievement has already been received welcomingly by Australians, and some believe he will quickly become a role model for Australia's youth.
"For a competition such as the NHL predominately made up of Canadian, American and European players, a 20-year-old Australian being drafted is an inspiration to young athletes across the country," Minister for Sport and Recreation in Australia Stuart Ayres said. "The people of Australia are going to quickly realize the magnitude of Nathan's achievement."
Walker, whose nickname in Australia was "Stormy," says he models his game after Boston Bruins winger Brad Marchand, a speedy, gritty player who tries to get under his opponents' skins.
"It's been going great," Walker said during his time at the development camp. "It's a great bunch of guys. The coaches and staff are great. I'm learning a lot on the ice, which is the main thing with the development camp. So far, it is going really well."
While his hockey career has already been filled with Australian firsts, Walker's ultimate goal is to accomplish one more, becoming the first Australian to play in the NHL. He took a step closer toward that goal when he signed a three-year entry level contract July 25. His annual salary will be $70,000 if he stays in the minors with the Bears in the AHL, but his rate will jump to $575,000 by sticking with the Capitals.
"Obviously, the main goal is to stay and play in the NHL," Walker said. "Obviously, that doesn't happen overnight or in one year. I'm prepared that I'm going to be in Hershey for another couple of years, developing, and then we will just take it from there."
The Mighty Ducks were a bunch of kids who you would never figure to succeed in anything on the ice. But, against all odds, each player was able to accomplish something great. This young Australian would fit right in.Full Story >>