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From The Stands: ‘Why did I give up a year of my career?’

Guelph Storm coach talks NHL lockout

From the Stands
By Paul Osborne  

Guelph Storm coach Scott Walker has an interesting perspective when it comes to the current National Hockey League negotiations.

In 2003-2004, he was coming off his finest season ever in the NHL (25 goals and 67 points) and had just signed the best contract of his career. Then came the work stoppage.

“At that time I still felt I had a few years left,” said Walker. “I was in my early 30s and as an older player the thought of taking the first couple of weeks off and missing training camp wasn’t such a horrible thing. Then you think well, I guess I’ll get to spend Christmas with my family. But you’re not used to seeing your buddies in your hometown for so long and your wife and kids are looking at you wanting you to ‘go do something.’”

And then the 2004-2005 season was canceled.

“It really shocks you as a player,” admitted Walker. “Because I’m guessing 80 per cent of the players then really didn’t pay much attention as to what was going on. And when we started to play the next year that nice contract I signed was rolled back.”

Not that he is complaining, because he realizes he lived a privileged life as an NHL player but now he looks at the current mess and it upsets him.

“I was talking to (former NHLer) Todd Harvey (who is helping Walker with the Storm) and the (lockout) in 04-05 probably ended his career,” said the Storm coach.

“We felt we went through that so other players wouldn’t have to, and yet here we are again. It’s hard not ask yourself . . . why did I give up a year of my career?

“Harvey and I are 30 to 40 pounds overweight now and hobbling around and while I don’t begrudge anyone anything, wouldn’t it be great to get that year back?”

Walker recently had Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke in his Sleeman Centre office and has also talked to Carolina GM Jim Rutherford about his frustration.

“As an ex-player you’re remembering we missed an entire season because we were doing it for the future of the game and the future player. We ended up taking a salary cap but it grew from $39 million (per team) to $76 million. It worked out O.K. but now it kind of feels like it meant nothing for us to sit out.”

Walker feels the players will stick together during the current lockout.

“A player’s mentality is to fight, fight, fight and they will stick together through thick and thin. It’s one of the things that people love about hockey players, but it is the one thing that might hurt us the most.

“The one thing I regret about my career is that I never sat back and enjoyed it enough. I was a late pick in junior hockey and not drafted into the NHL until I was 19, so after every game we lost I thought they were going to call me in to say ‘You’re going to the minors.’ I’m not saying I never had fun, but I never really took the time to think ‘this is pretty neat flying around on private jets and staying in great hotels’ and there isn’t a single retired player who wouldn’t give it all back to play just one more year.”

The NHL lockout has evolved into a huge embarrassment for both sides. It has become personal between NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and players’ chief Don Fehr and is no longer about doing what is best for the game; it is about crushing the other side at all costs. Scott Walker’s voice simply adds common sense to a situation now out of control.

From the Land of Oz . . . The Storm just completed a very successful week, not only winning all three games, but defeating two teams ahead of them in the standings. They knocked off the Kitchener Rangers in a rare 3-2 shootout win last Tuesday with Brock McGinn and Jason Dickinson scoring on their opportunities. Friday they knocked off the sixth ranked Owen Sound Attack with a dominating 4-1 win with 11 different players contributing points. Then they went into Erie, a venue they have struggled mightily in for years, and spanked the Otters 8-0. Justin Auger led the onslaught with a goal and four assists, Tanner Richard also had four assists while McGinn and Zack Mitchell each had a pair of goals. The victories now give the Storm the third best record in the Western Conference, four points behind Owen Sound . . . Richard has left the Storm for Team Switzerland’s Junior National team training camp. Garret Sparks will leave for the Team USA camp on Sunday . . . The Storm has just three games left in 2012 – all against divisional leaders in Sarnia, London and Belleville . . . the Storm visits Sarnia on Dec. 14 at 7:05 p.m. before hosting London on Dec. 15 at 2 p.m.

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