Aussie Walker scores in historic debut for Caps

AFP
Nathan Walker becomes the first Australian to play in the NHL — and makes it a dream debut by scoring in the Washington Capitals' 6-1 defeat of the Montreal Canadiens.
AFP
Reuters

Washington Capitals left wing Nathan Walker (right) skates with the puck as Montreal Canadiens defenseman Victor Mete defends during the third period of their NHL game at Verizon Center in Washington DC on October 7, 2017. The Capitals won 6-1.

Nathan Walker made history on Saturday, as the first Australian to play in the National Hockey League, and scoring a goal to boot in the Washington Capitals' 6-1 demolition of the Montreal Canadiens.

On a night when celebrated Russian teammate Alex Ovechkin notched his second hat trick in as many games, the 23-year-old Walker netted the Capitals' sixth goal of the night.

The goal was originally credited to Devante Smith-Pelly before officials reviewed it and awarded it to Walker.

"At first, I wasn't sure if it was a stick or the puck," Walker said of feeling the puck that deflected off his left leg.

Smith-Pelly, who realized the shot deflected off of Walker, asked for the puck as a memento for the Australian.

When the scoring change was announced, Walker’s mother Ceri frantically waved an Australian flag as Ovechkin skated over to the bench to tap Walker's helmet.

"It's incredible," Walker said. "A really special moment."

Walker's youthful ice hockey dreams were fueled by movies such as "The Mighty Ducks" and "Mystery, Alaska".

He left Australia to hone his hockey skills in the Czech Republic, and in 2014 became the first Australian drafted by an NHL team.

Since then, he'd been playing for the Capitals' minor league affiliate in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

The Capitals celebrated his NHL debut with a video featuring congratulatory snippets from fellow Australians who have broken into United States pro sports leagues.

National Basketball Association players Andrew Bogut, Matthew Dellavedova, Thon Maker and Aron Baynes were featured, along with National Football League players Adam Gotsis and Sav Rocca.

Fellow sportsmen weren't the only Aussies watching.

"First Aussie, first game, first goal. What a night for @NathanWalks10 Congratulations mate!" tweeted Australia's Ambassador to the United States Joe Hockey.

Rare NHL feat

Sydney-raised Walker also got to witness a rare NHL feat, his illustrious teammate Ovechkin scoring four goals to become the first player in 100 years with back-to-back hat tricks to open a season, The Associated Press reported.

Ovechkin had three goals in the third period in Thursday's opening night win at Ottawa, then matched the feat while helping chase Montreal goalie Carey Price in the first period on Saturday. He added his fourth goal at 16:46 of the second period against Al Montoya.

Ovechkin jokingly credited the burst to his Russian sister-in-law, who has been visiting the US this week.

"Every time she's in town like I score a hat trick," Ovechkin said. "Back-to-back and she's leaving Monday. I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to talk to someone to keep her here."

It was the fourth four-goal game of his career and second against the Canadiens.

Three players had hat tricks in the first two games of the 1917-18 season: Cy Denneny of Ottawa, Joe Malone of Montreal and Reg Noble of Toronto, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Ovechkin is the first since.

Braden Holtby stopped 38 shots and TJ Oshie also scored for Washington.

Ovechkin opened the scoring 20 seconds in, added his second goal at 2:51 and his third at 18:10. Evgeny Kusnetsov assisted on all four of Ovechkin's goals.

Capitals coach Barry Trotz spent time with his star in the offseason, and he's heartened that the 32-year-old Ovechkin worked hard to prepare for the season.

"Alex took it to heart that he's got to keep evolving," Trotz said. "It's tougher when you're older. You've got to work out harder."

Brendan Gallagher beat Holtby early in the second period for Montreal's only goal.


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