Editor’s Note: It’s “Underdog” week at SB Nation, and, here at Canes Country, we’re going to be taking a look back at some of the more memorable underdog players in the team’s history. The Hurricanes have had a number of players who exceeded expectations as a low draft pick, undrafted player, bargain free agent or seemingly minor trade to carve out a role and become a fan favorite. Today, we feature a game-seven hero.
Throughout the years there have been many players to dawn the red and black Carolina Hurricanes uniform, some memorable, some not so memorable. While his on-ice production was nothing to remember him by, Scott Walker secured his place in Canes history via three things: Being a gritty veteran who had no problems playing his body, a sucker punch and a game seven overtime winning goal.
Drafted in the fifth round during the 1993 NHL draft by the Vancouver Canucks, Walker would make his NHL debut during the ‘94-95 season before becoming a every night player during ‘95-96 season. During his time in Vancouver Walker developed a reputation as a bruiser. Racking up an average of 144 penalty minutes per season (that doesn’t even include the ‘94-95 AHL season where he collected 334 PIM’s!) while a Canuck, Walker knew how to play his role well.
That led to the Nashville Predators selecting him during the 1998 Expansion Draft where Walker would go on to have some of his best statistical years in the NHL. Despite battling numerous injuries, Walker would hit career peaks with the Predators, scoring 25 goals twice and putting up a career high 67 points during the ‘03-04 season.
Despite his high production, his defining career moment would not happen for another five years when he was with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Shortly after winning the Stanley Cup in 2006, the Hurricanes traded Josef Vasicek to Nashville in exchange for Walker. His first season in Raleigh was a moderate success as he scored 51 points and played the entire season. However, after that things took a turn downhill.
Battling through injury after injury, Walker would only play 58 games in ‘07-08 and then just 41 in ‘08-09. Injuries ranged from cuts to the knee to concussions and Walker was just not the same player he had been.
But Walker would return in time for the 2009 playoff run where he would see his career legacy challenged.
During the second round of the playoffs against the Boston Bruins, the Hurricanes had gained a three games to one advantage in the series with the teams headed back to Boston for game five. The Bruins were up 4-0 on the Canes late in the third period when Walker and Aaron Ward go in to a confrontation. Walker dropped his gloves and immediately hit Ward in the face before Ward even had a chance to react. It was the sucker punch heard around the league.
Walker was fined $2500 for the incident and the Bruins would rally to defeat the Hurricanes in game six forcing a game seven in Boston just a few days later. To say Walker was enemy number one in Boston would be an understatement. He was welcomed about the same way Alex Ovechkin was welcome in Raleigh during the 2019 playoffs after he questionably knocked out young Andrei Svechnikov.
As the game wore on, the Bruins and Canes were deadlocked at 2-2 sending the game to overtime. Back and forth play went until just over a minute to go in overtime when Ray Whitney slapped a shot at Tim Thomas. The initial shot was saved but public enemy number one was there to knock home the rebound, out of mid-air, to defeat the Bruins. It was Walker’s first and only career playoff goal.
Two days later the Hurricanes announced that Walker’s wife, Julie, had been diagnosed with cervical cancer. Walker had battled through nagging injuries, becoming hated in Boston, all while trying to figure out what was going on with his wife at home. With all of that going on he went out and scored one of the biggest and most memorable goals in Carolina Hurricanes history. That’s truly an underdog story.
Walker went on to play one more season in the NHL, another one where he battled injuries, and he was eventually traded to the Washington Capitals where he finished his career. Walker then headed north to Guelph where he became the head coach of the OHL’s Storm.
He would lead the Storm to many successful season including the OHL Championship in 2014. During his time there he coached NHL players such as Tyler Bertuzzi, Garret Sparks, Robby Fabbri, you guessed it, the next Hurricanes player to win a game seven overtime contest on the road: Brock McGinn.
Walker left Guelph in 2015 citing personal reasons but has remained around the game. He has served in front office roles with both Vancouver and now Arizona. He was also an assistant coach for Team Canada during the 2018 Olympics.
Not bad for a fifth round draft pick known more for penalties than scoring, right?