Nathan Walker jumps for joy

Nathan Walker on the attack for the Hershey Bears. He has been selected by Washington in the NHL draft. Photo: Bill Duh & Nancy Attrill, JustSports Photography.
Nathan Walker on the attack for the Hershey Bears. He has been selected by Washington in the NHL draft. Photo: Bill Duh & Nancy Attrill, JustSports Photography.

Nathan Walker and his parents Wayne and Ceri were doing ''jumping jacks'' around their Grays Point home at 1.30am on Sunday after the 20-year-old became the first Australian selected in the NHL draft.

Walker and his parents were watching the NHL draft online from Philadelphia when the Washington Capitals chose him at No.89 after trading their two fourth-round choices with the New York Rangers for the  penultimate pick in the third round. After attending development and training camps with the Capitals during the past two northern summers, Walker was well known to Washington officials and they were concerned he had attracted the interest of other franchises while playing last season for Hershey Bears in the American Hockey League.

''I am just speechless,'' Walker said. ''I was watching a feed with my parents and a cousin, and they just announced my name at about 1.30am. It was unbelievable. We were doing jumping jacks around the lounge room. The Capitals called me last night and just said they wanted to congratulate me.''

Once the announcement was made, the phone didn't stop ringing as friends and family called to congratulate Walker on the fulfilment of a dream that began when he watched the film The Mighty Ducks and involved him moving to the Czech Republic at 13 years of age to play ice hockey.

''We are just so proud of him,'' Ceri said. ''We were just amazed by it all, we were doing jumping jacks all over the house and the messages just kept coming in. I was thinking last night of the time when I first left him there and I kept thinking 'what have I done, is this the right thing to do?' In his heart he still wanted to be there but it was very hard for us coming back to Australia. But seven years down the track his dream has come true. When he was 13 years old and he said 'mum, I need to be playing more, I need to be on the ice more, I am not going to be able to do that here in Australia', and then he had an opportunity to try out we just went. It happened very, very quickly, the Czechs trialled him for a week and said [they] would like to keep him. That was on the Friday and on the Sunday I got on a plane and came home.

''I can't even remember the last time we had him home for Christmas or a birthday, so he deserves absolutely what he has achieved today, because his determination has been just incredible. He would have sacrificed anything to make the goal of being drafted.''

Washington assistant general manager Ross Mahoney said he had never envisaged drafting a player from Australia but Walker's speed as a skater and strong work ethic had convinced the Capitals to make him a priority.

''It is unbelievable, and it is a but unusual when he comes in and says, 'hi mate, how are you doing,' '' Mahoney said. ''We don't usually get that from the hockey players. We have some different languages but Australian isn't what usually gets thrown at us. We are just trying to find the best players available and we don't care where they come from, even Australia. Obviously we have been following Nathan for a while because he has been at our camps and we had identified him earlier as a potential player to be drafted. He is obviously ahead of some of the other players we have drafted because he has been playing with men, and we had him in our rookie camps, we had him playing rookie games, we had him playing exhibitions games and then also playing at Hershey.''

After six seasons playing with HC Vitkovice Steel in the Czech Republic, Walker moved to the US last year and played for the Youngstown Phantoms in the USHL before becoming the first Australian to play in the AHL when he joined the Hershey Bears, a Capitals affiliate.

In 40 games with the Bears, Walker recorded five goals while also racking up 43 penalty minutes. Walker, who has represented Australia, will play as a special selection for the USA team in the upcoming International Ice Hockey Series against Canada, which begins in Perth on July 11 and 12, and includes matches in Brisbane on July 19, Melbourne on July 25 and Sydney on July 26.

This story Nathan Walker jumps for joy first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.