Capitals

Capitals

Ten years after leaving Australia for the Czech Republic—as a 13-year-old—to pursue his dream of playing in the NHL, that day will finally arrive on Saturday night for Nathan Walker.

After sitting out the Capitals’ season opener on Thursday, Walker will make his debut against the Canadiens in front of a group of friends and family members who made the 21-hour trek from Sydney to Washington.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Walker said after the morning skate in Arlington, Va. “It’s been a grind. The journey has been really long but I wouldn’t give anything in the world to be in this moment right now. I’ve been working so hard toward this and to finally get the chance to play on the NHL ice for the Washington Capitals, it’s really special.”

The 2014 third round pick added: “I think I can calm the nerves a little bit. It’s definitely going to be exciting, so you know I’m going to [have to] control the emotions a lot.”

You know who’s going to be in tears? Walker’s mom, Ceri. She’ll be in the stands at Capital One Arena with Walker’s dad and brother, her son’s fiancée as well as some friends. The Australian contingent arrived Thursday.

“I could cry at any minute,” Ceri Walker said. “I’m very emotional today. It’s been a long time coming. We are all just so proud of Nathan, so proud. His dedication, his hard work, all the opportunities he’s missed. He’s given up so much but it’s an absolute dream come true.”

 

At this point, Walker’s story is well known: he left Sydney as a teen for the Czech Republic but his journey has also made stops in Youngstown, Ohio, and Charleston, S.C., and Hershey, Pa., where he spent the past four seasons honing his craft and impatiently waiting for this moment.   

“He’s had to be a strong person,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “He sought out a passion that he had and he traveled the world to go after it. He knows it’s a pretty big deal in terms of what he’s doing [for] a country that’s not known for producing NHL players. To be the first to blaze a trail for a game that’s growing around the world, there’s no better spokesman.”

Trotz continued: “I can tell you this about Nathan Walker: He’s pretty genuine. He’s a very hard worker. He’s been chasing this passion very, very hard. So it’s not surprising that he’s playing his first NHL game.”

Walker will play left wing on the fourth line with center Jay Beagle and right wing Devante Smith-Pelly. Tyler Graovac skated in that spot in Ottawa.

Trotz said Graovac isn’t coming out because he played poorly against the Senators, he simply wanted to get Walker into the lineup quickly.

“I wanted to get everyone who made the 23-man roster into a game early so we can become a team,” Trotz said. “Tyler earned the right to go in first and Walker earned the right to get a game [too]. So let’s get them in, and feeling a part of it, and grow their roles and go from there.”