Tonight, Nathan Walker will make history as the first Australian national to play in the NHL. He’s understandably excited, and so is the rest of Australia.
Ahead of the game against the Montreal Canadiens, Walker spoke to the media about his journey to finally achieve the dream of playing in the NHL.
The 23-year-old moved to the Czech Republic to pursue hockey at the young age of 13, having fallen in love with the game after watching his older brother Ryan play. His career then took him to the United States, where he signed an AHL contract with the Hershey Bears in 2013 and was drafted by the Capitals in 2014.
“It’s been a grind. The journey’s been really long. I wouldn’t have traded anything in the world to be in this moment right now,” Walker said.
— CapitalsPR (@CapitalsPR) October 7, 2017
Still, the forward has long believed that his efforts could one day bear fruit in the NHL. In the interview, he said that he first realized that he might be able to achieve that dream with his move to the Czech Republic.
“I never stopped believing in that goal, and it’s finally come today,” he said.
A full transcript of the interview is below.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) October 7, 2017
What have the past 24 hours been like for you since they announced it? I imagine your phone’s been blowing up quite a bit.
Nathan Walker: Yeah, a little bit. It’s been pretty exciting. You know family’s here now. It’s been a really good time.
Your mom mentioned that at 13 years old she left you in the Czech Republic because she know you had a passion for the game. What’s it like to think about everything you’ve had to go through to get to this point?
Nathan Walker: It’s been a grind. The journey’s been really long. I wouldn’t have traded anything in the world to be in this moment right now.
You’ve been answering questions about this for so long. What’s it like now that it’s finally here?
Nathan Walker: It’s special. I’ve been working so hard towards this, to finally get the chance to play on NHL ice for the Washington Capitals. It’s really special.
You seem like the kind of guy who can treat this like every other game. Is that accurate or are you expecting nerves?
Nathan Walker: I think I can calm the nerves a little bit. It’s definitely going to be exciting, so I’m going to try to control the emotions a lot and just go out there and do what I need to do to in order for the team to be successful.
Was sleeping last night any different from any other night?
Nathan Walker: [Laughs] No, it was all good.
What do you know about the team you’re going to face tonight?
Nathan Walker: Just the pre-scout we did on them. They’re a decent team, so we’re just gonna come out and play our game and try to get the win tonight.
When did you start believing you were going to make it to the NHL one day?
Nathan Walker: Probably the age of 13 when I moved to the Czech Republic. I never stopped believing in that goal, and it’s finally come today.
Your mom said you were nagging them for quite a while to make that move. What made you so sure that it would work?
Nathan Walker: I think just passion for the sport. I love coming to the rink everyday and getting on the ice, and unfortunately you can’t do that back home, so I had to leave home at a early age.
What do you think your debut will do for youngsters in hockey in Australia?
Nathan Walker: Hopefully push them a little more to get overseas if they want to and pursue their goal.
Is it cool that people are waking up to watch you play hockey over there?
Nathan Walker: Definitely. I think it’s a Sunday morning over there when the game’s played, so a lot of people should be off work and able to get the game on.
They say it’s good timing that the Australian superbowl was last weekend, so you’re the big story in Australia right now.
Nathan Walker: Yeah, I guess you could say that [laughs].
Will you be happier when you’re just a hockey player again and not making your debut?
Nathan Walker: [Laughs] Yeah, that’ll be good.
Would you consider playing hockey in Australia in the offseason as a form of training?
Nathan Walker: No, I just go out there and train on the ice out there. I wouldn’t really consider playing, just with the fact that I’m contracted here and I wouldn’t want to do anything to disrupt that.
You also played junior rugby. Did it have a positive influence on your abilities as a hockey player?
Nathan Walker: I wouldn’t really say they’re similar sports, but they’ve got some similar areas I guess. Some of the rugby game I can kind of take away and translate into hockey.
What was the biggest jump for you with all of the moves you made between juniors and the Czech Republic and the US?
Nathan Walker: I think definitely coming over from the Czech and playing here. You play a lot more games here. I think it definitely takes a toll on you. So I’d say the jump from Czech to US.
Did you find another way to train to meet those demands?
Nathan Walker: I think so. The season finishes over there in February, and here you still play another too months. You’ve definitely go to prepare yourself in the summer to make those adjustments in order to keep playing longer.
How did you fall in love with the sport?
Nathan Walker: I think it’s just how unique the sport was back home. No one really played it, no one really knew a lot about it, so I just wanted to go out there and try it out and see where it took me.
Would you have played if [your older brother Ryan] hadn’t played [hockey before you]?
Nathan Walker: I would imagine so, but he’d probably say the other way, so I’m not sure about that one.
You were born with a set of skills that’s not natural to Australians. Did you think you were different from the other kids because you were dominating kids who were much older?
Nathan Walker: I don’t know. After school I’d be getting my inline skates on and shooting pucks in the garage and I’d be making hockey nets out of PVC pipe, but they didn’t last too long. I think I was just so in love with the game that every time I came home from school I’d be shooting some pucks or doing something hockey related.
Do you remember the first hockey game you watched?
Nathan Walker: No, I can’t remember the first game. Too young [laughs].
Who was your model as a hockey player?
Nathan Walker: When I was younger we got a Wayne Gretzky video, one of the up and coming players. I think Jagr was on the videos, he was one of the first guys we were watching, so I think he probably kicked it off for us.
Do you think the emotions for your parents tonight will be special?
Nathan Walker: Yeah, I think so. I think there will be a lot of tears up there.
Does it feel special that your parents and brother are able to come watch you play tonight?
Nathan Walker: Definitely. My family, my fiancee… my family and friends are here too so it’s a really special moment.
How many people will be here?
Nathan Walker: I think 7 or so.
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