The long, difficult path Nathan Walker has skated from Sydney’s Sutherland Shire to Las Vegas for the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup finals is one of Australia’s great sporting stories.
Get excited sports fans.
Hockey season is upon us.
No, not the new Hockey One tournament, I’m talking about the greatest show on ice. Ice Hockey. And more specifically, the National Hockey League. The NHL.
You know, that league which features a bunch of Canadians, Americans and Europeans (and of course one Australian) smashing each other into the boards for 60 minutes and attempting to put a small black disc in the back of a nylon net?
Or perhaps you know it as that one Disney started a team up in because they had some successful movies in the 90s? You know what I’m talking about.
Since becoming a regular visitor to The Roar in the last few months, I’ve noticed a serious lack of articles on what is arguably one of the most exciting sports anybody can watch. There is a myriad of articles on the other North American major leagues, including the NFL and NBA.
Hell, even baseball has had more of a presence on here since the last ice hockey article. My duty to this site has become apparent. You can thank me later.
In the meantime, that excitement is building ahead of the 103rd NHL season. 31 teams from across Canada and the US are about to battle each other across 82 regular-season games and four rounds of playoff hockey for the ultimate prize in the sport: the Stanley Cup.
It is perhaps one the greatest trophies in all of the sporting world. A silver tower of history, emotion and memories. A piece of metal that anybody who has strapped on a pair of skates and hit the ice has dreamed of holding above their head in front of thousands of adoring fans.
There is so much to anticipate ahead of the new season. For many fans of franchises who have never tasted Stanley Cup success, there is renewed hope that this season just may be their season. For the last two years, two teams won the Stanley Cup for the very first time.
The Washington Capitals in the 2017-18 season and the St Louis Blues in the 2018-19 season. Does that give fans of the Arizona Coyotes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers, Buffalo Sabres, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, Ottawa Senators, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Cannucks, Vegas Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets a glimmer of hope that they taste glory for the first time?
What about those teams that have won it before but have been waiting forever? The Toronto Maple Leafs enter this season having not won the Stanley Cup since the 1966-67 season, a drought of 51 seasons. Having seen just how much their city embraced the Raptors during their NBA championship run last season, will that spur them on even more to give Toronto even more to celebrate?
How about other former great teams such as the Philadelphia Flyers (who would have their amazing mascot Gritty celebrate like nobody else), New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers? Is this the season where they can finally break their drought?
And how about the Canadian teams, hoping to bring home the cup to their hockey-obsessed nation for the first time since the 1992-93 season? On top of the Cannucks, Senators and Jets searching for their first championship and the Leafs and Oilers hoping to break long droughts, the Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens will also join in the hunt and give a country of close to 40 million hockey fans a hope that finally Lord Stanley can return home.
After one of the most incredibly unpredictable playoffs in history, many fans go into a new NHL season anticipating it to be one of the best on record. Several favourites have already emerged, but are they likely to go on to live up to those expectations?
The Tampa Bay Lightning won their first-ever Presidents’ Trophy with a record-equalling 62-win regular season but were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Blue Jackets. Will they step up a gear in 2019-20 to finally live up to their potential?
What about the 2018-19 runners-up Boston, who narrowly missed out on adding a third major championship to Bean Town by losing in Game 7 to the Blues?
How about the Capitals, who fell short last season on going back-to-back but still have inspirational leader Alexander Ovechkin and a fully stacked line-up which have the potential for another cup tilt?
And what of the Colorado Avalanche, who stunned Western Conference top-seed Calgary in the first round and showcased their incredibly talented roster who many are tipping for great things in the future?
Added to this, we have some new rules to contend with, seven teams with new coaches and development of the new Seattle franchise which is set to enter the league in 2021-22. The mascot, colours and uniform of Seattle are set to be launched in the coming months (I’m backing the Kraken), which is another exciting development for which every hockey fan can add to an ever-growing list of amazing things to come in the new season.
And for Australian fans that added excitement has to be added to our very own Nathan Walker. The first (and so far only) Aussie to be drafted into the sport has found a new home with reigning champions St Louis and will hope that he can get far more game time this season than he achieved with the Capitals.
Walker has managed 12 NHL games across the last two seasons with both the Capitals and Oilers and has been used sparingly in the pre-season with the Blues to give the team a taste of just what he is capable of.
It’s more than likely he’ll spend the majority of the season with the club’s AHL affiliate San Antonio Rampage, but in the fickle world of the NHL you never know just what opportunities may come to him.
So, are you excited yet? I know I certainly am. And with less than a week to go until the opening faceoff between Ottawa and Toronto, I have no doubt we are about to witness an incredible year in the NHL and one that will once again showcase to the world why it is one of the great competitions to support.
Who do you think will win the Stanley Cup? Who do you think will make the playoffs? And who do you think will struggle to make an impact? Let me know below.