If you’ve followed the Nashville Predators since the early years, when you hear the name “Scott Walker,” you instantly think of a fan-favorite player that was the epitome of Barry Trotz hockey. Walker was a hard-working player that finished his checks and continually provided offense. Claimed in the 1998 expansion draft from the Vancouver Canucks, Walker instantly became a leader for the young franchise. In the inaugural season for the Nashville Predators, Walker recorded 40 points (15G-25A). He spent seven years in Nashville, tallying 247 points (96G-151A) over a span of 410 games. Over his NHL career, Walker played in 829 games between Vancouver, Nashville, Carolina and Washington, registering 397 points (151G-246A).
He’s now taken his professional experience to help mold the future of hockey by serving as head coach of the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). Walker was hired as the head coach of the Storm in December 2010 and took Guelph to the Memorial Cup last season where they lost to the Edmonton Oil Kings in the finals. Each season he’s been the head coach, Walker has taken the Storm to the playoffs. While the Storm lost to a very good Oil Kings team, getting his team to the championship was a major feat.
“It’s always fun when you win,” said Walker. “We had a really good team and played pretty hard. There are some teams that could come close to ours skill-wise but there definitely wasn’t a team that played as hard as us.”
Junior hockey teams change every season as players graduate on to the next level or enter their pro career early. Developing the player to be able to take the next step is the key strategy as a head coach in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL). Instead of focusing on just scoring points, Walker wants his players to be complete hockey players. That’s what he believe is the key to success.
“For me, they all come out of midgets as all great hockey players,” said Walker. “I want to teach them that being a 15 or 16 year old, and no matter if you’re scoring 10 or 20 goals, you can still be a great hockey player. I don’t really care if they score or get assists every night. I just want them to play good, solid, consistent hockey games. Finish your check, get the puck in, no turnovers, play defense, block shots, there’s so much more to it. You’ve got to be able to play three or four games without getting a point and still be a good hockey player.”
It’s evident that Walker is supplying his players with the right tools to be successful. While trying to help develop these young players to be good at their craft, it’s also important to understand the pressure they are under to succeed. Junior hockey is stressful not only on organizations to win, but also on players. And the pressure comes from all angles. For a coaching staff, it’s vital that they address any issues that could affect a player’s well-being.
“There’s a lot of stress that goes on in junior hockey,” said Walker. “There’s a lot of pressure on these young kids. They’re out of their house and facing a lot of internal pressure, as well as pressure from parents and agents. Our league is good, so coming in as a sixteen year old thinking they’re going to be a great junior player is extremely tough.”
“For me, I think it’s just another line of communication for every body, not just for the player, but for the coaches and parents,” said Walker. “Hopefully, we can get kids the right spot and mindset. It’ll only make them better.”
While there was still pressure on junior hockey players 20 years ago, the game has changed tremendously. Players are faster and stronger. Players are pushing themselves harder because they are more aware of their abilities and those of their competitors.
“The skill level is extremely high on every kid,” said Walker. “You have to understand that every kid is big. Every kid is fast. Every kid can shoot. Back when we played, there were only a couple on each team. Now they’re all big and training 24/7. Everybody is coming in good shape. It’s a highly competitive sport, so you have to monitor these kids to make sure they’re not hurting themselves.”
It’s obvious that the Guelph Storm have found a gem in Scott Walker. Currently, the team is 10-9–0-1. While this puts them last in a Midwest that includes highly talented teams in the Erie Otters, Kitchener Rangers and London Knights, they are still sixth in the conference. The season is still young and with Walker’s abilities to teach his players how to learn the game and be a well-rounded hockey player, more success is bound to come.
Most recently, Walker served as head coach of the OHL in the Subway Super Series, where the best the OHL has take on teams put together from the Western Hockey League (WHL), Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and Russia. The annual tournament is six exhibition games with locations set all across Canada. More information can be found here.
*Photo courtesy of Guelph Storm*