Don’t label Johnny Walker: Arizona State standout’s unique style grows college hockey in the desert | NHL

Shortly after scoring the game-winning purpose to defeat then-No. 6 Penn State, Johnny Walker dropped all the way down to a sitting place onto the ice, a hockey pose uncharacteristic even for purpose celebrations. Utilizing his stick as a paddle, he pretended to row a boat.

Not solely did Walker give his Arizona State Solar Devils an upset victory over the Nittany Lions, however he provided up his submission for finest purpose celebration of the 12 months.

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The celebration was extra than simply Walker’s approach of having fun with his successful purpose. It was the embodiment of him as a participant.

The sophomore ahead is greater than only a piece of the successful puzzle for ASU hockey — which has been ranked as excessive as No. 16, based on USCHO.com. Walker, a Phoenix native, is changing into the face of a southwestern hockey program that some don’t even know exists. Arizona State is the one Pac-12 faculty with a Division I workforce, a geographic polar in comparison with school hockey hotbeds like Massachusetts and Minnesota, however Walker’s on-ice aptitude helps to raise this system on the nationwide stage.

He’s in style amongst Arizona State’s followers and his teammates, generally known as somebody who likes to have enjoyable on the ice and rile up opponents earlier than leaving them within the mud as he scores. That system has confirmed particularly profitable this season for Walker, who holds a share of the NCAA targets lead and has been constantly among the many nation’s prime scorers.

johnny-walker-2-120618-ftr.jpg
(Picture courtesy of Arizona State athletics)

Walker’s fun-loving persona is one thing he is determined to embrace. He enjoys reaching his targets, no pun meant, so why not let that present?

“I feel that typically lots of people could make (hockey) extra critical than it must be,” Walker advised Sporting Information. “On the finish of the day, you play the sport to have enjoyable and that’s why you began. Some folks get caught up in enjoying to maneuver to the subsequent degree. My purpose was to play school hockey after I was youthful. I lastly made it and it’s time to have some enjoyable with it. Day-after-day I get to play is just a little gravy on prime, just a little further.”

Walker’s enthusiasm for the sport could not make him essentially the most well liked by the opposition, particularly as he is amassed 65 penalty minutes in two seasons. It is sensible, then, that the NHL participant who Walker fashions his sport after is Brad Marchand, who has constructed a fame as a love-him-or-hate-him expertise for the Bruins.

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“He’s sort of an undersized man that competes actually laborious and doesn’t again all the way down to anybody and nonetheless finds a option to contribute offensively too,” Walker mentioned about Marchand. “He’s precisely what I attempt to be.”

Tempe, Ariz., the dwelling to Arizona State College roughly 10 miles exterior Phoenix, goes in opposition to all the pieces you consider hockey.

Oceanside Ice Area, the Solar Devils’ dwelling enviornment, is ill-fitted contemplating there isn’t a ocean within the state, not to mention beside the venue (the title was truly given in order to suit with the West Coast theme of the companies across the enviornment).

The complete premise of the game revolves round ice, but Phoenix is the warmest main U.S. metropolis on common and sees snow as soon as in a blue moon.

So it would come as a shock that the Solar Devils not solely have an NCAA hockey workforce, however an excellent one at that, with wins over conventional powers like Penn State, Michigan State and Harvard this season enjoying as an unbiased. 

ASU has a recruiting weapon at its disposal that’s seldom discovered at different colleges with Division I workforce: the very sunny, warm-weather local weather that makes it an outlier in school hockey. Walker acknowledges the posh this gives and attributes it to why enjoying hockey in his dwelling state is interesting. It particularly offers a brand new perspective for Canadian youngsters who skilled loads of snow rising up.

johnny-walker-3-120618-ftr.jpg(Picture courtesy of Arizona State athletics)

“You aren’t going to go anyplace else within the nation, go to the rink in flip flops after which compete on Friday and Saturday evening with prime ten groups within the nation,” Walker mentioned.

Prior to now, desert dwellers solely had the Arizona Coyotes of the NHL — who play within the Phoenix suburb of Glendale — as a approach of getting their hockey repair.

The emergence of the Solar Devils within the NCAA panorama has given followers of the game a substitute for the professionals.

When Walker was rising up in Arizona, school hockey was overseas to the realm.

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“The one school hockey sport I ever noticed was after I went and performed in a match in North Dakota, it was on TV,” Walker mentioned. “Only for school hockey to be within the Valley and for youths to see extra like a tradition step than the Coyotes.”

Maybe his standing as a homegrown star is why Walker has made an effort to present again to the Arizona hockey neighborhood and is revered when he exhibits as much as his brother’s youth hockey video games.

“I do know (Walker) has been doing a number of neighborhood service with the native youth groups and he has bought just a little brother that performs on the junior Coyotes,” teammate Jacob Wilson mentioned. “He’s normally going out Sundays to observe his brother play, so I feel that’s fairly cool of him to indicate his face round there. The children know who he’s.”

Arizona’s inventory has been rising within the sport, and Walker appears to be the subsequent large face within the state’s hockey scene, following the lead of Scottsdale native and two-time NHL All-Star Auston Matthews, the primary choice within the 2016 draft. Walker and Matthews performed on summer time West Coast selects and different summer time league groups collectively, providing a glimpse at hockey’s future within the state of Arizona from a younger age.

A part of the explanation why ASU has had a profitable season is its clubhouse tradition, which Walker has actively contributed to. He retains issues free and enjoyable, however is aware of easy methods to step up in a management position.

“He’s not afraid to actually name guys out and inform them we’d like extra from them,” Wilson mentioned. “He positively helps us within the locker room.”

If anybody on the Solar Devils is aware of Walker as an individual, it’s Wilson. The 2 roomed collectively as freshmen and selected to dwell collectively once more.

“He works laborious on the ice and I take pleasure in having him as a roommate,” Wilson mentioned. “He’s all the time enjoyable and he’s all the time bought one thing to say so it’s by no means a uninteresting second with Johnny Walker, that’s for certain.”

Walker’s post-college plans are centered round enjoying within the NHL, following within the footsteps of Matthews and a choose few different Phoenix residents within the skilled ranks. Nevertheless, similar to his on-ice skillset, he’s versatile and needs to place the enterprise regulation diploma he plans to acquire from ASU to good use. No matter what he opts to do, hockey appears to be a giant a part of the long run.

“Sooner or later I’m going to need to get an actual job, whether or not it’s proper out of faculty or if I’m fortunate sufficient to play skilled hockey for just a little bit,” Walker mentioned. “I feel I might need to take it and be one thing on the sports activities company facet, whether or not it’s an agent or one thing associated to hockey and keep within the sport so long as I can.”

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