As a boy, Capitals forward Nathan Walker fashioned his own homemade hockey goals out of PVC pipe — despite knowing his contraptions wouldn’t last long — so that he could don his inline skates and practice shooting pucks in his garage.
He was obsessed with hockey — despite the sport’s relative obscurity in Walker’s native Australia.
Boyhood obsession turned into lifelong commitment, and Walker, now 23, made history Saturday as the first Australian to play in an NHL game.
Even better, he notched his first career goal in the Capitals’ 6-1 rout over the Montreal Canadiens.
“It was amazing,” Walker said. “As a kid, you’re always thinking you’re going to play in the NHL one day and be there. I just try to take it all in and enjoy myself.”
After outgrowing the competition in Australian, a 13-year-old Walker moved to the Czech Republic to focus on playing hockey full time at a team’s youth club.
The move required an incredible leap of faith because it meant leaving his family behind, except for the occasional visit.
He played in the Czech Republic for five years before latching on with the Hershey Bears, the Capitals’ American Hockey League affiliate, in 2013. The Capitals later drafted him in the third round of the 2014 draft.
On Saturday, seven of Walker’s family and friends were in attendance after taking a 21-hour flight from Australia.
The NHL was never a guarantee for the undersized forward.
At 5-foot-9, Walker has to rely on his speed and embraces a number of different roles.
Goaltender Braden Holtby compares Walker to teammate Jay Beagle, who has played center, forward and on the penalty kill.
Capitals coach Barry Trotz calls his Australian fearless.
“On the bench, it’s fun. Guys love him because he lays it on the line every shift, every moment,” Trotz said. “He’s chased his dream across the world and there’s no fear. There’s absolutely no fear.”
Capitals forward Tyler Graovac was benched for Walker against the Canadiens, and the two are expected to split time going forward for the last left wing spot on the roster.
Trotz said he wanted to play Walker in the home-opener to energize the Capital One Arena crowd.
“I thought he did that,” Trotz said. “I thought he had a good game. His speed is undeniable.”
Walker’s first goal happened to be a deflection.
Near the end of the second period, Devante Smith-Pelly slapped the puck off the draw and the shot flew off Walker’s leg.
Waving an Australian flag, Ceri Walker was jumping up and down while yelling.
The jumbotron cut back to Walker, who was smiling. He noticed them crying.
“I’m at a loss for words,” Walker said. “[Scoring] was incredible. It was a really special moment and proud moment, too.”
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