Friday, June 22, 2012 - Submitted by Peter Lambert
Tommy Dunderdale, Jason Elliot, Nathan Walker.
These three names are ones that most Australians won't know, nor the Canadians, Czechs or Americans, but have a significant relationship with elite ice hockey and Australia.
Dunderdale was born in rural Victoria in 1887 and moved to Canada at age seven, where he became a pro hockey player and is the only Aussie in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Elliot played in Australia and for Australia as a teen, but returned to his native Canada where he eventually won a 2002 Detroit Red Wings Stanley Cup ring as a relief goalie – despite never actually getting to play in a fair dinkum National Hockey League game (he did play some pre-season games).
But 18-year-old Nathan Walker, from Sydney, is close to achieving something no Aussie before him has ever done – getting drafted into the NHL.
At 12 and 13 years old, Walker was tearing through the NSW junior ice hockey leagues, often playing against kids much older than he, but still leading the scoring.
In 2007 playing in the Under 14 league, Nathan "Stormy" Walker managed to score an unprecedented 77 goals and 25 assist (a total of 102 points) in only 14 games.
The next closest competitor scored 70 points from 24 games.
Just to prove it was no fluke, he also played in the Under 16 league at the same time, leading the scoring with 69 points in 16 games, the next closest teen scoring 53 from 20 games.
He still gets the "Stormy" nickname as well as Nathan, but comments, "I don't mind, either is OK".
In 2007 Walker moved to the Czech Republic where without speaking the language he was thrust into the junior leagues of one of the world’s most hockey mad countries.
As a 16-year-old Walker got a call-up into the Czech elite league from the juniors, and into the Czech Extraliga.
Walker rewarded them by scoring points against seasoned professional men.
Now Walker is a regular on the HC Vítkovice Steel team list, and was loaned to Division 2 team HC Olomouc to see out the 2011-2012 season. He's also played a hand-full of AIHL games with the Ice Dogs in 2010 and 2011.
On New Year’s Day of 2012, Walker scored a goal on NHL veteran goalie Marty Turco, representing HC Vitkovice versus the Canadian men’s team in the annual Spengler Cup tournament.
There was already talk of Walker being a chance for an NHL draft in 2012, but that goal caught the attention of the Canadian media, who were fascinated by the idea of an Australian being drafted into the most prestigious ice hockey league in the world.
Suddenly hockey fans across Australia, and even perhaps in North America, were looking for Walker in the draft rankings.
Earlier in the season Walker was ranked 21st in Europe, with a final placing of 25th.
In theory that would have him expected to be selected in the second round if an equal number of North Americans were selected, but North Americans are favoured and Walker's smaller size (five foot nine) and lack of national pedigree will scare off some teams who may still have other options.
Hockey punter site "The Bleacher Report" has Walker down for an estimated pick of 203rd, putting him in the seventh and final round.
Walker won't be making the trip to Pittsburgh; he and his family feeling there's enough risk of him not being selected that it's not worth the expense to travel so far.
"I'm going to have a party at home, just a few hockey mates,” said Walker.
"It doesn't start until midnight here, but we're going to stay up and watch it on a web stream."
Irrespective of where he is selected, if he is selected he will be the first ever Australian-raised player to be drafted into the NHL.
Whether he ever gets to play an NHL game is another matter, as only around one in five draftees ever play in the NHL.
Most play professionally in the minor leagues such as the American Hockey League (AHL), East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) and like Walker, in the European pro leagues.
Walker isn't sure what to expect if drafted, but is preparing at home and keeping options open.
"I'm working out every day now.
"I don't know what will happen if I'm drafted, I'll have to wait and see.
“They may want me in the minors [in North America] or if not I'll go back to Vitkovice."
For now, Walker and the Australian ice hockey community are counting down the hours until midnight Sunday morning, waiting to see if he will join Tommy Dunderdale and Jason Elliot as a ground-breaker for Australian ice hockey.