20/04/2024
Nathan Walker St Louis Blues NHL

Nathan Walker celebrates scoring one of three goals for the St Louis Blues.(Photo: St Louis Blues - Twitter)

In his NHL season debut for the St Louis Blues, Australian Nathan Walker has scored a hat-trick, becoming the second player in franchise history to achieve the feat.

Australian ice hockey export Nathan Walker has continued to make history in the National Hockey League (NHL), recording a hat-trick in his first game of the season for the St Louis Blues in their 6-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings.

Walker, who, on October 7 2017 became the first Australian to make their NHL debut when he was selected for the Washington Capitals 6-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens – a contest where he scored a goal also -, has played 25 games at the top level since, credited with three goals and two assists in that timeframe.

Born in Wales, Walker was called up by the Blues’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds ahead of the contest against the Red Wings, the Missouri-based franchise feeling the effects of forced injuries and health and safety protocols and measures.

Walker would be sure to make the most of his opportunity at the highest level, helping the Blues to their 14th win of the season and putting them in second place in the Central Division standings, courtesy of a hat-trick of goals. In doing so, Walker became the second player in franchise history to achieve the feat in their season debut.

The 27-year-old scored his first two goals – and the first two goals of the game – in the opening period of the contest. The scoring began with a wrister that deflected off a defensive player and trickled through Detroit goalie Alex Nedeljkovic’s pads at the 6:17 minute mark and just over 10 minutes later, Walker made it a 2-0 lead.

Each team would score once in the second period before St Louis made it a sure result, netting three goals to Detroit’s one in the third and final period. Walker would again claim the first goal of the period at the 9:27 mark, a deflection from teammate Torey Krug’s shot skimming Walker’s stick and finding the back of the net.

Speaking to the Bally Sports broadcast post-game, Walker reflected on the occasion, saying he was excited to be afforded the chance to play in front of the St Louis home fans at Enterprise Center.

“It’s great, I mean, getting to play back in front of these fans has been incredible and the guys in the room have done a great job in letting me in so it’s great to get the two points tonight,” Walker said.

“I think you kinda want to work a little harder too, just knowing that the guys need you… it’s pretty special. All you want to do is play [in the] NHL and to be able to do that, it’s pretty nice but to do it with this group here and these fans here has been great.”

Continuing with the media duties following the triumph, in the post-game press conference, Walker told media that the way he played today was a reflection of how much he wants to be involved in the sport at this level, touching on the special moments that make it all worthwhile.

“I like to think that’s the way that I play and I think that the goals kinda come with that but to get three, I think’s pretty special.” he said.

“Every NHL game you can get in, I think makes [being away from home] worth it. I think over the course of my career, my life with hockey, my family and I, my wife and my kid, we’ve made a lot of sacrifices and it’s kinda nice when stuff like this happens.

“As tough as [last year] was, it was fun. The guys here are great, they make you feel a part of everything whether I was in the lineup or on the taxi squad, they were the same, and that goes for everyone in the room, they’re a great bunch of guys and that goes for the staff too and they definitely make you feel welcome wherever you fit in.”

Reminiscing on his collection of goals against the Red Wings, Walker commented on his history-making third goal, as well as how important it was to get off to a good start, for the team, and himself.

“I knew I tipped [the puck] (for the third goal) and I saw it in the back of the net. I didn’t know whether it might’ve hit Sunny (Oscar Sundqvist) on the way in or Schenner (Brayden Schenn), I wasn’t sure about that but I knew that I tipped it and I saw it in the back of the net so I just figured I’d celebrate,” he mentioned.

“I think it meant a lot to get us on the board early, especially playing short-handed like that, if you can get a bit of a cushion, it’s kinda nice for the guys. I’m not taking all the credit on all three goals, everyone on the ice did a lot of hard work to set those up so I’m not taking the credit for that but getting to play with those guys and the way that they play definitely helps you out a bit.

“It all stems from the guys in the room and the way they play and how they play when you’re out there and it definitely makes it a lot easier on yourself to play the Blues hockey.”

St Louis Blues coach Craig Berube echoed his forward’s comments, bringing to light Walker’s ability to always be moving on the ice, and creating chances to further the team’s energy to deliver a win.

“[I’m] very happy for him, he’s a hard-working guy, really good teammate, really happy for him,” Berube said.

“If you watch, I mean, he’s always moving his feet and skating and getting on top of people. He just has intensity out there, he has a lot of energy every shift and brings energy every shift. Every time we have him up here, he’s done a good job for us.”

Walker’s teammate from Springfield, who was also called up for the game, Charlie Lingrin told media post-game he too wasn’t surprised by Walker’s ability to perform for the main team, having seen his capabilities in the AHL.

“I’m not surprised, I mean, he’s a great dude, great leader, he’s definitely one of the leaders in the room down in Springfield and honestly, to see him come up here and do what he does and score three tonight, honestly, I couldn’t be happier for him. He’s a frickin’ unbelievable guy”, Lingrin said.

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It’s been a bumpy road for Walker since his NHL debut four years ago, having been placed on waivers twice, winning a Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals, and now currently playing with this third NHL franchise following a short stint with the Edmonton Oilers in 2017.

Originally drafted by the Capitals with pick 89 in 2014, less than two months after his NHL debut, Walker was waived by the Capitals, only to be picked up by the Oilers. Following a two-game appearance with the Canadian-based franchise, Walker was again put on the waiver list and would be picked up by his former team once more.

Throughout Walker’s maiden season in the NHL in 2017/18, Washington qualified for the playoffs, finishing atop the Metropolitan Division with a 16-4-6 win-loss-overtime loss record. The franchise went into the post-season winning their first-round matchup 4-2 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, before prevailing 4-2 over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round.

In Game 6 of the Eastern Conference second-round matchups against the Penguins, Walker made his NHL playoff debut, recording a point when he gave an assist to Alex Chiasson to open the scoring in the eventual 2-1 overtime result.

The Washington Capitals would go on to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 in the Eastern Conference Final, before prevailing 4-1 over the Vegas Golden Knights and thus hoisting the Stanley Cup aloft – the first in franchise history. Unfortunately for Walker, his name was unable to be etched upon the trophy having not played the required number of season games to quality, however still got to revel in the enormity of the celebrations.

Nathan Walker celebrates and lifts the Stanley Cup in 2018 with the Washington Capitals. (Photo: Rob Carlin – Twitter)

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