Like all players before their first game in the Western Hockey League, Ben Walker was nervous.
The Victoria Royals forward debuted with the team in Kamloops on Nov. 25. He didn’t register any points in a 4-1 loss, but the speedy redhead did manage to keep up with his linemates and wasn’t on the ice for any of the Blazers’ goals.
However, as a highly touted U.S. high schooler, more was expected from Walker than just keeping up. Last season Walker captained his junior Hornets with 32 points (18 goals,14 assists) in 24 games. The year before, the Hornets won their state title.
After going scoreless in his first four games, Walker is finally showing signs of his potential with 16 points in his past 20 (as of Jan. 31).
When the 18-year-old left Edina, Minn., to sign with the Royals, he’d never even seen a live WHL game. Neither had his parents until they made the trip to see the Royals in Brandon on Jan. 14.
“For the most part, everyone is bigger and faster but I’m just taking it day by day, playing my game,” said Walker, who could still add a little to his 5-foot-11, 175 lbs. frame.
A lot went into his adjustment, including the switch to an NHL-sized ice. In the Minnesota state hockey league, some high schools have small ice surfaces and some use college rinks, which are Olympic-sized.
“There were a few new things to get used to: learning new systems with the team, and a brief culture shock (attending) Vic High,” Walker said about the switch from a midwest suburb to the West Coast. “I’m pretty settled now.”
NCAA can wait
Walker went against the grain by waiving his NCAA eligibility to play “professionally” in the WHL.
Victoria (and B.C.) is a hotbed for NCAA hockey players, and Walker is the first to come the other way with the Royals, having played youth hockey in the very rinks of NCAA teams back in Minnesota.
“I talked to coaches and parents, and we kind of figured I could always go back to college at a later point,” Walker said.
The Royals are in Spokane tonight (Feb. 3) and Tri-City tomorrow.
Next week the Everett Silvertips visit for back-to-back games, 7:05 p.m. on Tuesday (Feb. 7) and Wednesday nights at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre.
Royals quietly fill niche in roster
Back when Marc Habscheid introduced himself to Victoria as coach and GM of the Royals, he also made it known this team had a deficit of 1993-born players, with just Tim Traber and Jesse Zgraggen from the WHL’s 2008 bantam draft.
When the Victoria Royals announced the signing of Ben Walker, it was important not only because Walker’s talented and didn’t cost the Royals anything in trade, but because he’s also a 1993-born player.
Walker’s already become a consistent contributor, and, while he wants to see his team climb up the standings this year, he’s an even bigger part of next year’s squad.
Along with Walker, Habscheid has also added ’93-born Czech import Lukas Kralik, rookie sensation Logan Nelson, and the most recent acquisition, rugged defenceman Jordan Fransoo.
Fransoo looks close to being AHL-ready (ECHL, at the least), and Nelson is third in rookie scoring with 48 points in 49 games.