He wasn’t the first Australian-born player drafted into the NHL, as he wasn’t born in Australia, but in the UK.
Perth-born Can/Aussie Darren Gavin was the first Australian and Australian-born player in 1984.
Nathan Walker wasn’t the first Australian representative to be drafted into the NHL.
That was Jason Elliot in 1994.
What Nathan Walker IS, is the first ever grassroots Australian to be drafted by the NHL.
Australians can be a little proud that he first learnt to skate, play and enjoy hockey as a member of the Blacktown Flyers in Sydney’s West.
In a club committee meeting in 2007, conversation with volunteer dynamo Dawn Watt – the lady largely responsible pulling together Australia’s hosting of the Men’s Div II IIHF World Champs in 2008 and the Women in 2011 – turned to an amazing young player in Sydney.
Dawn was speaking about young Stormy. He was a Peewee and had at that time already scored 99 points in his age division [a very memorable number].
By season end he’d scored 102 points in Peewee, 69 points in the Bantam state competition, 15 points from 11 games in Midget division. That’s a 13 year old scoring over a point a game in Under 19s, and was the #1 scorer not just in his own age division (Peewee) but in the one above (Bantam).
Dawn also recalled how she had been discussing his incredible talent at an IHNSW meeting, and her concern that Nathan would burn out by playing so much hockey so young. Maybe he was being pushed to play so much hockey?
Over her shoulder she heard, “He loves it. He wants to play more”.
Nathan’s mother Ceri Walker was at the meeting, unbeknownst to Dawn.
Stormy’s passion and incredible determination to achieve something that seems fairly outrageous to most people is a lesson to us all. Over the past eight years Nathan Walker has indeed done as his wristband reminds him to do: “Prove them wrong”.
The other big lesson we need to take from Nathan’s story is in regards to why he moved to Czech Republic soon after his 102 points in Peewee.
In his many recent interviews, when Nathan is asked why he moved to Czech from Australia he says respectfully and correctly that the opportunity to develop to elite levels in Australia is hampered by the lack of available ice time.
Two hours of practice a week can’t compete with the two hours a day that kids can average in the more serious programs of Canada, Sweden, Finland, Czech and USA.
There are potentially more Nathan Walkers in Australia. Several North Stars juniors including Liam Manwarring and Cooper Nadin are in or about to begin High School in Canada. These are schools famous for producing NHL players. They are private schools specialising in elite sports development.
Some of the talent at last weekend’s De Fris national tournament was inspirational. South Australian Captain Jake Riley was a tiny force on the ice, stick handling with aplomb and scoring goals top-cheese like nobody’s business.
For Australia to close the gap, we too need a Vitkovice Steel, a Notre Dame. Australia needs a private high school program with a tight relationship with a nearby rink, in order to get these boys and girls some serious ice time and development support.
Schools are hard to run in the simplest of circumstances, but the challenge is there to find a program that meets the needs of a high school but with the inclusion of elite sport development as a subject. In this case we’re talking ice hockey, of course.
In Newcastle, for example, the North Stars Academy could work with Bishop Tyrell College to include multiple units of PE. Ice hockey development, of course.
In Melbourne there is the Next Level Academy, the Colts, and the Melbourne Ice Academy. There are plenty of suitable schools, such as Xavier College, Melbourne High, Carey Grammar.
In Perth the new Cockburn rink would likely welcome school programs with Clontarf Aboriginal College, and Perth Ice Arena is convenient to Guildfrord Grammar.
In the long term, we’ll need more suburban grassroots facilities like Sydney’s Canterbury ice rink and the proposed ice rink at Pakenham in Melbourne’s Eastern foothills.
There will be boundaries to overcome, as the education of our kids is a highly-regulated area. There may need to be coordination between PE teachers and training providers. There may need to be qualifications and WHS requirements met.
It will be worth it.
Competition would be via inter-squad games, and hopefully should this model be utilised in several locations across Australia.
These kids would still represent their states and Australia, be close or closer to home, and best of all help demonstrate to the rest of the world that Australia is a realistic source of hockey talent.
It’s too easy to write an article saying “they should do this”, a “hospital pass” in hockey speak. Therefore let us say “we will attempt to do this”.
Once the season is done, I’m interested in hearing from any of you able to assist in this concept. Those with a current understanding of DET policy and planning, restrictions on external training programs, experience with the AIS in Canberra etc., are all encouraged to contact me and have a fair dinkum crack at making a true and significant change in our country’s ice hockey future.
Stormy taught us this – it’s the Stormy Academy:
“Prove them wrong”.