Montreal – During his first five years staging Tampa Bay Lightning, Daniel Walcott only touched the national league through bad luck or his own initiative.
It was there that he decided to extend his spring in Florida after his early elimination with American School Club. This is also where he stayed with the big club to treat an injury he suffered during the training camp. Good anecdotes to say, but nothing to show off either. His final goal, although he thought it was getting close, was still far from him.
Last April, the phone rang. Due to a shortage of players, Lightning invited him to his reserve team. His first real recall is in the NHL.
From defender to striker: a transition that pays off
“That was enough for me in the beginning,” said Kipker from his hotel room in Tampa. I knew I wasn’t going to play right away, I probably wouldn’t play at all. But just being around men, and taking the trips, was a great experience. “
This sympathetic little story has taken on massive proportions over the past few days. On Sunday, Walcott received a call from coach John Cooper, who wanted to warn him that he could contact him in the last game of the regular season. The next day, after a night short of stress, the 27-year-old rookie got the confirmation that had been waiting for him.
But Cooper didn’t tell him everything. It wasn’t until he made it to the arena, hours before his first National Hockey League match, that Walcott realized he would line up with Matthew Joseph and Jimmel Smith, two black players like him. Unprecedented in the history of the League for more than 100 years.
“We laughed, we thought it was funny and we were excited that the three guys are amazing guys. But we didn’t really realize how much impact we would have in the hockey world, as he later admits. After the match, when I looked at my phone, it was TSN and NHL … Gemel also had his own phone prison cell And he said to me, “Hey, are you the one who just played his first game, or did I?” “
“There, I think about it and realize how a beautiful moment, a big moment. We can be an inspiration to young people of color and I hope we are. I really hope that is the case.”
On the ice, the former captain of Blainville-Boisbriand Armada found a way to make his mark. In a 4–0 loss, he got seven hits and started fighting with gigantic Kevin Connaughton.
“Of course my role, I knew very well what it was. My game is very simple. Complete my hitting, hit the goal, take some shots, maybe move the soup a little bit. I’m happy with that side. Of course I want to keep playing. I don’t want to be.” One and I did. I think I have other things to show for too. Like I said, I played my first round, I was happy with my first game, but I can give more and I hope I get a chance to do so. “
A series of rejections
Whatever the sequel, the story of Daniel Walcott has something to inspire young people of all backgrounds and all origins.
In his early teens, after a first season at Pee-Wee AA level, he moved with his mother to Rigaud and enrolled at Collège Bourget. “We didn’t really have the means to travel, to do tournaments in AA. So I played in BB that year,” tells the Ile-Pero native.
Since the following year, Walcott almost completely abandoned hockey and focused instead on football. “I got involved in everything. I was having fun like any high school student with my friends,” he says simply.
“I didn’t make the team at Cégep St-Laurent”
After a while, Walcott decided to return to hockey. He aims to play with the Patriotes of Cégep St-Laurent, in the first division of the Quebec College Network. But his meager record earned him an invitation only to a training camp, where he couldn’t convince anyone to give him a chance. So he left to join his father in Chicago and found a team there ready to welcome him. It gave like a second Strengthen In my career. “
A year later, Walcott is aiming for the US Hockey League (USHL) or North American Hockey League (NAHL), two smaller rings in the United States. “I did five or six camps, I think, and always the same answer. I was too young or considered a foreign player and there was no space available for the teams.”
But a coach from a small college in Missouri noticed him and offered him a scholarship. Walcott spent a year there, then when he learned that one of his coaches knew Jean-Francois Hall very well, then the captain of the fleet, he asked him to say a word about him. Not only did he secure his place in training camp the following fall, he also became the mainstay and captain of the great defensive brigade of his new team.
At the end of the year, he was drafted into the fifth round by the New York Rangers.
Another obstacle stands Walcott as he leaps into the professional ranks, two years after his return to Quebec. In Syracuse, where he ended up trading with Lightning, there’s a jam on the defense post.
“At one point we went to St. John’s with nine defenders and nine forwards. The coach, Rob Zettler, who is now an assistant here in Tampa, asked me if I could play on offense to help the team. I said yes. I just wanted to be in line. I did.” Well well, he loved being physically in check before. So that year, I did a half and a half. In some matches, I started offense and ended up defending. Other times it was the opposite. “
When Benoît Groulx takes over from Zettler the following year, Walcott tells him he wants a real chance to win as a defender. But injuries to the attacking limb again prompted him to volunteer for the common good.
“Ben saw me in the attack for the first time and liked what he saw. So I stayed in the same position, I was playing in both places. But I realized that I was very effective in attack, and that Ben loved it, and I didn’t want to be caught between two positions anymore.”
A crossroads occurs at the end of its entry contract. To maximize his chances of reaching the national league, Walcott decided it was time to think about himself a little more and focus once and for all on a unique position. He sits with Groulx, consults Joël Bouchard, his mentor in Armada, and concludes that he will now be a full-time striker.
Even today, he thanks Benoit Groleks for supporting him in his decision.
Groolux told us last February: “You know, you have to find your way to play in the national league.” Scott Walker, with whom she trained in the Canada Hockey Program, was a defender in the Ontario Junior League. A very good defender. And then he played 12-15 years in the national league on the right flank, because he found his way. “
“Daniel Walcott, without saying he’s Scott Walker, he’s an energy player, he’s an epidemic for the opponent. At home, we’ve developed him as a shorthand player. He’s improved a lot on the ice, his way of responding, etc. He’s a guy who sacrificed himself for … The team blocked shots. Overall, I think he made a good decision to play on attack. We’ll see where everything takes him … “
Three months later, when John Cooper called Daniel Walcott to ask him to be ready, he had a question for him. “If you played tomorrow, where would you like to play better?” “
He meant the left wing or the right wing? But I said, ‘Do you mean defense or attack? “New Lightning laughs No. 85. He thought it was funny and said to me,” Yes, that’s right! If we ever need … “He will always follow me, but it won’t hurt my chance to break through and survive.”