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Although he was born in the U.K., Nathan Walker became the first Australian player ever drafted by an NHL team on Saturday, as the Washington Capitals took the forward at No. 89 overall.
This may not be huge news for Capitals fans, who were familiar with Walker as a training camp invitee last season. But in Australia, it’s pretty much the most important thing to happen since the invention of Vegemite.
It is one of the biggest achievements ever by an Australian sportsman.
It is the equivalent of an American being picked in an AFL draft in the second round as a midfielder, not a speculative tall placed on a rookie list.
(Please note: He means the Australian Football League, not the Arena League.)
It is the equivalent of an Australian getting drafted to the NFL as a running back, not a punter.
(Please note: This will never happen.)
It is like Stephen Bradbury winning gold in speed skating at the Olympic Games, except Nathan has beaten out thousands of young prospects from all over the world's cold hockey hot spots to legitimately claim a berth on the Capitals roster.
(Look, no one tell him that it being drafted doesn’t mean a player can claim a berth on an NHL roster, or really anything else other than that they went No. 89 in 2014 and didn’t get booed by the Philly fans.)
Such organisations do not hand out contracts because it makes for a good story. No field of eligible competitors has stumbled for Nathan to win his position.
(OK, well, most organizations don’t … unless their star goalie’s son is draft eligible.)
He famously left Australia at 13 in order to further his career in the Czech Republic, surviving homesickness to become a pacy left-winger feisty enough to earn the nickname "Stomry".
(“Pacy”? Anybody? Dawson? Joey?)
Hundreds of thousands of Australians play basketball. It has a much celebrated Olympic presence. There is no reason, apart from internecine incompetence, why it should not rank as a major mainstream media sport in Australia.
(Throwing shade at the local fans. We knew there was a reason we liked this guy.)
Ice hockey in Australia, by contrast, is a minor sport, handicapped by a lack of facilities, yet, like Walker, hitting above its weight. Since the opening of the Icehouse in Melbourne's Docklands in 2010, the quality of the national league has improved year upon year.
National teams at all levels continue to perform strongly. Fox sports televises the Australian Ice Hockey League's game of the week, and the fully amateur league is attracting fans and sponsors like never before.
(Please tell us there are Fox Sports robots with Aussie accents. Or at least ones that through electronic boomerangs at each other.)
Ice hockey is the smallest of North Americas major sports
but it is a big deal.
Its stars reap multi-million dollar deals, it has franchises from Los Angeles to Montreal, and it is the national obsession of Canada and many Northern Scandinavian nations.
(Please consider Northern Scandinavia for future expansion, Mr. Bettman.)
Walker, all 178 cms of him, is an Australian success story, and Dante Exum and Adam Scott, ensconsed in the US, will know it.
Hopefully, some of their fellow Australians will also soon realise the magnitude of Walker's achievement.
Goofy hyperbole aside: Nathan Walker getting drafted is huge for hockey in that nation. Because just like the small town Canadian kid who has someone that skated on their pond and went to their high school and played street hockey on their block, some kid with a stick in Australia now knows that it’s possible they can get drafted by the National Hockey League.
G’day, Nathan Walker. G’day …