You aren’t getting quite a lot of 27-year-old debuts within the NHL, however with Daniel Walcott’s again story, it was a fairly straightforward one to cheer for.
The Tampa Bay Lightning left winger was a late-bloomer who took a really unorthodox path to the professionals and he did not simply get to line up for the opening faceoff in opposition to the Florida Panthers Monday evening; he acquired to do it as a part of an all-Black line with teammates Gemel Smith and Mathieu Joseph – who additionally occur to be good mates with Walcott.
“They’re all shut buddies off the ice and a part of the pondering was them having chemistry collectively,” mentioned coach Jon Cooper. “However as we transfer ahead right here as a league, you hope it is not a narrative – it is a story in the present day, however because the league will get various, you hope it turns into the norm; a league for everyone.”
It is definitely a optimistic assertion, one approaching the heels of AHL Ontario operating an all-Black line of Quinton Byfield, Akil Thomas and Devante Smith-Pelly earlier within the season. For Tampa Bay’s NHLers, it was an excellent alternative.
“We had been fairly joyful,” Joseph mentioned. “It is a step in the precise path. We need to showcase our sport to our households and different Folks of Shade. It was positively superior to be one of many guys for that and it got here from the teaching employees, so it is nice recognition for positive.”
For Walcott, it was a double blessing because it was additionally his first NHL sport ever.
“Coop did one thing actually particular,” he mentioned. “It is superior to advertise this for the younger children on the market, the younger minorities. Seeing Jarome Iginla put on the ‘C’ for Calgary was an inspiration for me and I at all times seemed as much as him. I simply hope I can have the identical impact on individuals.”
Simply realizing Walcott’s path to the NHL must be sufficient for any child dreaming of a future in hockey to imagine in themselves.
As a teen, he stopped taking part in hockey at one level due to the associated fee to his mother and father and performed soccer earlier than returning to the ice. A late bloomer, he performed highschool hockey in Illinois whereas residing along with his father in Chicago (Walcott is initially from Montreal). From there, he performed ACHA membership hockey at Lindenwood College within the St. Louis space and whereas skating for the Lions, he was scouted as a defenseman by the QMJHL’s Blainville-Boisbriand Armada.
Walcott’s success with the Armada the following season led to the NHL draft, the place the New York Rangers took him within the fifth spherical of the 2014 class. Walcott performed the following yr with Blainville-Boisbriand once more and earned himself QMJHL first crew all-star honors within the course of. In the summertime of 2015 he was traded to Tampa Bay for a seventh-round decide and from that time on, Walcott solid his means within the professional ranks with the Lightning’s AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch. And now he’s formally an NHLer.
“It was a whirlwind of emotion,” Walcott mentioned. “It has been a very long time coming and I do know lots of people have been cheering me on for the previous couple years and to get that beginning lineup was fairly particular.”
Sadly for Walcott, one of many lasting photographs of the sport was him being on the unsuitable aspect of a combat with Panthers defenseman Kevin Connauton, however as a Good Humble Hockey Participant, the Lightning left winger took all of it in stride.
“I am the youngest of three boys so being a punching bag has been in my childhood,” he mentioned. “I like to combine it up – he acquired me with some good ones there, good on him – however I prefer to be in the course of the motion and that is as shut as I can get. I used to be simply joyful to be on the market, sticking up for my teammates.”
The icing on prime would have been for Walcott’s household to have been within the stands, however the merciless realities of a pandemic panorama made it too tough for his Canadian kin to journey for the occasion. However given how lengthy Walcott grinded simply to get to that second, it goes with out saying the sport was particular for all concerned, even when they needed to watch his debut on TV.
“It felt good, it felt like a reduction,” Walcott mentioned. “We made it.”