Joe Thornton bowed out at the 11th hour because of a family medical emergency, so there was an unfamiliar face, without a name on the back of his sweater, playing ball hockey Monday with the crème de la crème of NHL players.
It turned out to be Dylan Walchuk – a pretty sweet gig for the 21-year-old from McBride, B.C., who was only too happy to oblige when the emergency-substitute invitation from the Canadian Olympic team came.
Walchuk came to the attention of national men’s head coach Mike Babcock a couple of days after the squad’s coaching staff tried a dry run of the ball hockey scrimmage using players from the University of Calgary Dinos.
Babcock called it “the best story of the day,” adding: “[The Dinos] had a team party the night before, a double-kegger, and we put them through the paces, and that kid was the best kid on the ice by a million miles.”
Walchuk had been exploring options in Europe and minor pro, but decided to go to school instead and see if there were any professional career options after graduation. He’d spent the past two years playing for the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs (a team Babcock coached from 1994 to 2000).
On Monday, Walchuk played on a line with Jordan Staal and Taylor Hall, and he’ll likely be back again Tuesday, filling in because of Thornton’s and Claude Giroux’s absence.
“We phoned him up and said, ‘Do you want to come?’” Babcock said. “His stall was next to [Sidney] Crosby’s. He did a good job, he was excellent out there. That’s how life should be. When you do good things, good things happen.”
“It was sweet – just seeing those guys on TV all the time and getting to play with them,” Walchuk said. “They’re all good guys. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.”