Castlegar kid NHL bound - Luke Walker 139th overall draft pick
Finally! A good news story involving local youth, and we have our own 20-year-old Luke Walker to thank. Walker was a fifth-round draft pick for the Colorado Avalanche last week, realizing a lifelong dream and following in his father’s footsteps.
“I didn’t really have any goals, other than to play in the NHL,” said Walker, who was a good student with good grades when he graduated from Stanley Humphries – but while he admits he had other options, he says hockey is the only one he had any passion to pursue.
“I’m a very, very competitive person,” he says. “Every game is just the most fun ever, a rush.
“I devoted my whole life to hockey, and it’s paying off.”
He said being a draft pick doesn’t mean a spot with the Avalanche is a done deal – in fact, the hardest part is only beginning, as he heads this Saturday to a two-day Colorado training camp.
“You don’t even bring your gear to this one, it’s just testing to see how fit you are and what you can do,” he says.
Then it’s back to Castlegar for two or three weeks (where he’ll continue to train – days off are just not an option), then back to the Portland Winterhawk training camp (the team he’s played with the past three years). After that is the Colorado farm team training camp, where he’ll compete first for a spot on Colorado’s minor league team. If he impresses them there, then he’ll get a chance to join the Avalanche training camp.
“You still have to fight against all the other draft picks for that one spot,” he says. “You have to work really hard and make a really good impression.”
This bodes well for Walker, who says one of his greatest strengths is a deeply-ingrained work ethic.
“I plan to be the hardest-working guy there,” he says, adding he has no problem with “getting in the corners and doing the dirty work”.
“I’m not a finesse guy, I don’t weave in and out of the other players to get a goal – I just go hard,” he says, adding his favourite player as a child was Dallas Stars’ Bill Guerin. “I play a lot like him.”
Walker’s dad, Gordon Walker, was born and raised in Castlegar and ultimately ended up in professional hockey for seven years, playing 34 NHL games with the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings.
He says he’s dead proud of his son, and that Luke is proof you shouldn’t judge a player’s potential when they’re just starting out.
“Luke was a late bloomer – only 5′ 7” when he was 16 (now he’s 6’1”),” Gordon says. “He decided he wanted to pursue hockey even though it didn’t look like he’d be big enough for the NHL. It was his choice; his plan, and I’m proud of how hard he’s worked and what he has accomplished.”
Gordon said he was obviously a big part of Luke’s hockey growing up, passing on many of the skills and tools he developed in his own pro hockey career, but the most important assistance he offered his son was a respect for his decisions and the support he needed to follow through on them.
“The support is the big thing, and the opportunities you give them,” he says adding other coaches may have had more impact in terms of Luke’s playing style. “As a father ….all dads know, kids don’t listen to their dad every time. It’s good for them to have someone outside close family to look up to and listen to.”
He says growing up in Castlegar has significant advantages to the NHL-bound.
“Larger places weed out their top players early, as young as 10 or 12, and they get more ice time, more practice, more games,” he says, adding the problem with that approach is that it’s way to early to know who will have the drive and commitment to really go places with the game. “In a smaller town, you just get more opportunity.”
He said the image of a fanatic hockey parent doesn’t fit for him – he was all about supporting Luke’s choices, not foisting off his own dream on his son.
“It’s a tough game, pro hockey,” he says. “There’s a lot of highs – but a lot of lows, too.”
He says Luke has made significant sacrifices to get where he is today – moving away from family, friends, girlfriends – moving to a different place and graduating with strangers so he could play hockey.
“Going to the gym when everyone else is going to the beach – that’s hard. It’s a 12-month-a-year game now, you’re always training, and that takes a real commitment.”
Both Walker Jr. and Sr. have the same advice to budding players waiting for their own big break – work hard for it.
“Work hard in anything, not just hockey, and it’ll pay dividends down the road,” says Luke.