Sammy Walker momentarily thought about passing the puck in the final minutes of the Wild’s 4-1 victory at Winnipeg on Tuesday night. He collected a pass from Matt Boldy, skated into the offensive zone with a defender in front of him, and after a couple of seconds, fired the puck into the empty net
“I was waiting for someone to join,” Walker said with a smile. “You can’t really pass that up, though, so threw it in there.”
It was the first goal of Walker’s young NHL career. It most certainly won’t be his last.
Asked how many text messages he gotten in the past 24 hours, the rookie forward from the University of Minnesota bashfully replied, “Too many.” He’s still trying to reply to every one of them.
As for the moment itself, Walker celebrated with linemate Freddy Gaudreau as soon as his shot hit the back of the net. In the meantime, Boldy made a beeline to the crease to grab the puck for Walker before joining the celebration along the boards.
The fact that Walker was even out there in the final minutes speaks to the confidence coach Dean Evason has in him. Not that Evason is taking any credit.
“It’s them dictating who should be on the ice,” the coach said. “If Sammy Walker didn’t play well throughout the game, he wouldn’t be on the ice.”
That’s pretty much been the story for much of the past few weeks. Since making his NHL debut during a Dec. 10 road game against the Vancouver Canucks, the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Walker has quickly earned the trust of the coaching staff. He has used his speed to make an impact and has fit like a glove alongside Gaudreau and opposite Boldy.
Not bad for the Edina native who signed with the hometown Wild this past offseason after finishing up a successful collegiate career with the Gophers last spring.
Did he think he would make an impact so quickly?
“I don’t think anyone did,” Walker said. “It’s unbelievable.”
As for Evason, he appreciates how Walker has trusted the process.
After playing very well during his brief stint in the NHL earlier this month, Walker got sent down to the minors about a week before Christmas. He went back to work before being called back up a couple of days after the holiday break with Marcus Foligno recovering from a minor injury.
“There’s going to be highs and lows in my career,” Walker said. “You’ve just got to keep an even keel, I guess, then hopefully get the call back up and make the most of the opportunity.”
Which is exactly what Walker did to score the first goal of his career.
“Now it’s an easy call,” Evason said. “My gosh, how easy is it to call up Sammy Walker? We fit him right in.”