AUSSIE Washington Capitals prospect Nathan Walker was centrestage in an NHL preseason game against Montreal Canadiens, starting a fight with a Stanley Cup-winning bruiser. Unfortunately he came off second best.
Walker might not be the biggest man on the ice, but he didn’t flinch when Andrew Shaw sent his rookie teammate Connor Hobbs flying face-first into the boards in the second period on Wednesday.
The Sydney-raised left wing immediately met Shaw and engaged in a tussle. At 5-foot-8, Walker was easily outsized by the 5-foot-11 Shaw, but the Aussie persisted even as his two-time Stanley Cup winning opponent used a free hand to stir the home crowd at the Bell Centre.
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Shaw, who was playing his first game for Montreal since being traded by the Chicago Blackhawks, totalled 30 minutes worth of penalties. He was dealt a major penalty for boarding and for fighting as well as a 10-minute misconduct and a game misconduct. Shaw is set for a hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety on Friday (AEST) and could face further discipline.
“A hit like that, you have to do something about that. I don’t think that was a clean hit by any means and so I stuck up for Hobbs,” Walker said after the game.
“I just saw [the hit] out of the corner of my eye, but when you hear the boards smack like that and you see him face down, you know it’s not a good sign.”
The Capitals’ associate coach Todd Reirden praised Walker’s team-first attitude.
“I’ll always point stuff like that out, and I brought that up after the game,” Reirden said.
“That’s ‘team,’ and that’s Capitals’ hockey and that’s one part of hockey that will never change for me is that when you stick together for a teammate — especially in preseason — with something like that, that’s incredibly brave and he did an outstanding job there and he was rewarded for that. His effort was pointed out after the game.”
The Canadiens won 5-2 in the feisty preseason encounter.
Walker, 22, is hoping to make his NHL debut for the Capitals this year following a career-best season with the AHL’s Washington-affiliate team, the Hershey Bears. Since he became the first Australian selected in the NHL draft as a 19-year-old, Walker has been developing in the AHL. Last season he earned another first in becoming the only Aussie to ever play in the Calder Cup finals.
Walker has played in both of the Caps’ preseason games, and is gaining plenty of attention for his physical, fast and aggressive playing style.
“[Walker] added a lot of life, definitely frustrated some of the opposition,” Reirden said after Washington were defeated 2-1 in overtime against Carolina, in their first preseason fixture earlier this week.
“He’s a guy that brings a ton of speed and energy and I thought he had a real strong game for us.”
“I’ve played like that my whole life,” Walker said following the loss.
“I’m not going to stop now just because the guys are a little bigger.”
Shaw, 25, signed a six-year deal with Montreal in the off-season worth $US23.4 million. Entering his sixth year in the NHL he is eyeing his third championship ring after hoisting the Stanley Cup in 2013 and 2015.