Last Night’s News 📰
CANADA’S CORE: On Sunday, Canada announced its 25-man roster for the 2022 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Junior Championship set to start on Dec. 26, 2021. Connor Bedard, the projected first-overall selection in the 2023 NHL Draft, became the seventh 16-year-old to make Canada’s roster, joining Wayne Gretzky, Eric Lindros, Jason Spezza, Jay Bouwmeester, Sidney Crosby, and Connor McDavid.
VOTE TODAY: Over the weekend, the NHL opened its online fan voting for the 2022 All-Star Game. Fans will select the four players to act as captains to represent their respective divisions.
ANALYZING THE AMERICANS: Today, the United States will host 26 skaters (16 forwards and 10 defensemen) and four goalies in an effort to win back-to-back World Junior Championships for the first time in program history. The camp will run through Wednesday before the US cuts its roster down to 25 players for the tournament.
BISHOP BOWS OUT: After 11 seasons, Ben Bishop has called it quits. The 35-year-old goaltender hasn’t played since having knee surgery following the 2019-20 season and was recently rehabbing with the Dallas Stars’ AHL affiliate.
This weekend saw numerous celebrities taking in games and cheering on their favorite NHL teams. Let’s check in on the star-packed weekend that was.
The Return of Snoop Dogg
Snoop Dogg, aka the Dogg Father, made his anticipated return to Staples Center—and it was everything we have been waiting for. He jumped into the broadcast booth and described the game in a way only he can, including “slidin’ on ice like a pair of dice.” After watching Snoop, it leads to one very important question—why hasn’t the league offered him a TV contract or set up an arena tour where he broadcasts for each team? Give the fans what they want, Bettman!
Hockey in Seattle
Actress Lana Condor is just like us. The Netflix star is a Washington native, growing up an hour outside Seattle. Naturally, she made her way to Climate Pledge Arena to take in a Seattle Kraken game. Joined by Anthony De La Torre, they cheered on the Kraken and enjoyed a slice of pizza. If that’s not winning at life, I’m not sure what is.
There was also a celebrity spotting at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, as Josh Dun of Twenty One Pilots and his wife Debby Ryan had seats on the glass to see the Blue Jackets battle the Ducks. The drummer was born and raised in Ohio and, unlike Sergei Bobrovsky or Artemi Panarin, he remains loyal to Columbus and the cannon.
From Australia to the NHL
Nathan Walker’s story does not get shared enough, and with his recent resurgence with the St. Louis Blues, it’s worth sharing again. Walker was the first Australian-born player to play in the NHL, making his debut on Oct. 7, 2017. However, it was not an easy road for him to get to that point. He traveled all across the world to make his dream come true, and although he struggles to keep an everyday spot in the lineup, he remains determined at 27 years old.
Let’s examine this journey. From playing in Australia while growing up to his move to Europe and then North America to play in the United States Hockey League (USHL), culminating with the Stanley Cup-winning Washington Capitals and eventually finding a home with the Blues this season.
Hockey Down Under
While growing up in Australia, which only has 20 ice rinks and less than 5,000 registered ice hockey players, it was evident how exceptional Walker was at the sport. When he went to the Czech Republic for a tournament with his team, the opposing coach recognized his skill and recruited him to stay and play for HC Vítkovice Steel. Ceri Walker, Nathan’s mom, was hesitant at first but eventually allowed him to stay, officially kicking off his journey.
Following his development in Europe, Walker made his way to North America to play for the Youngstown Phantoms in the USHL. After one season in Youngstown, Washington drafted him in the third round of the 2014 NHL Draft, becoming the first Australian player ever selected to the league.
Playing in Edmonton/Washington
After spending three seasons with the Hershey Bears in the American Hockey League (AHL), Walker gradually improved with the Capitals’ minor league affiliate. He cracked the opening night lineup after a solid preseason showing in 2017 and made his NHL debut against the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 7, becoming the first Australian-born player to accomplish the feat.
Australian-born NFL players Adam Gotsis, Ben Graham, Sav Rocca, and former MLB pitcher Grant Balfour wished Walker good luck ahead of his debut, showing how much it meant to his home country. Although Walker scored a goal in his debut game, the Capitals placed him on waivers at the end of November. He was claimed by the Edmonton Oilers, playing two games before being placed back on waivers and reclaimed by the Caps.
Scoring a Hat Trick with St. Louis
Walker became the first Australian-born player to make a postseason appearance and win a Stanley Cup championship. However, due to not meeting the games played requirement, his name was kept off the Cup. Washington let him walk as a free agent in 2019, allowing him to sign a two-year contract with the Blues in 2019. It took a few years to find a roster spot, but he made his season debut just last week for the team. Playing against the Detroit Red Wings on Dec. 9, he scored a hat trick while playing 12:56 during the matchup.
The offensive production has continued, as he produced a goal and an assist in yesterday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks. Walker is living proof that anybody can make it to the NHL and has become an international inspiration in terms of growing the game around the globe.
The All-Star Ballot Got It Wrong
After a one-year absence, the NHL All-Star Game is back. The annual mid-season exhibition and its weekend festivities, canceled last year due to COVID-19, will take place Feb. 4-5, 2022, in Las Vegas at T-Mobile Arena. Now, the league has opened up online voting for fans to vote for players to send to Sin City (unless NHL players are Beijing-bound, in which case, who knows).
Before we get to the actual group of players chosen for All-Star selection, the ballot—organized by division and with each NHL team represented—raises questions of its own. In its quest to feature the best of every organization, the NHL has given some players undue credit with inclusion and snubbed others. Debating nominees is always part of the All-Star fun, but at least get the ballot right!
Doesn’t Belong: Jack Hughes
Injuries suck, and the dislocated shoulder sustained by Jack Hughes in the second game of the season took some shine off a campaign that otherwise looked potentially star-making. At the same time, though, is nine games and seven points really deserving of a ballot inclusion? The 20-year-old former first-overall pick should one day be an All-Star fixture (the New Jersey Devils are banking on it), but this seems a tad premature.
A Better Option: Jesper Bratt
If the league was looking for a more deserving Devils representative, it should have gone with Jesper Bratt. The 23-year-old Swede has eight goals and 16 assists as the team’s leading scorer. Those 24 points account for more than Hughes and Nico Hischier combined, both of whom are on the ballot.
Doesn’t Belong: Mikko Koskinen
Apart from a solid 12 wins as the primary backstop for the high-powered Edmonton Oilers, Mikko Koskinen’s numbers don’t exactly jump off the page. In fact, the 33-year-old Finn barely ranks inside the top-50 in goals-against average (3.05 GAA) and save percentage (.907 SV%). It’s splitting hairs to debate the fourth-best Oiler behind Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but Jesse Puljujärvi or Zach Hyman probably would’ve been better options.
A Better Option: Marc-André Fleury
Switching teams, the NHL also could’ve given some love to the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, who also happened to notch career win No. 500 recently. With no disrespect to Chicago Blackhawks representatives Patrick Kane, Seth Jones, and Alex DeBrincat, Marc-André Fleury’s absence here is confounding. Maybe the Flower is perfectly content to enjoy an All-Star break at home with family, but he merits consideration on his name and current performance alone.