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Back From Injuries, Zach Walker Enjoys Strong Start

By Becky Olsen, 01/20/16, 3:45PM EST


Walker Scored First Goal in New USA Hockey Arena

Photo by Rena Laverty

Zach Walker’s first season with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program was marred by injuries. As a member of the U.S. National Under-17 Team last year, the Boise, Idaho, native missed 33 games.

Not content to sit back and sulk, Walker went to work on his offseason training program. Living in Tennessee, where his parents moved after he joined the NTDP, some unexpected friends gave him added perspective.

“I was able to work out at a gym down there and skated with the TPH Thunder, which was coached by Ron Gay, in Nolensville, Tennessee,” he said.

“They knew about the NTDP. Some of their players had played against kids who are on our team. They were asking questions about the players and program. Everyone looks up to the NTDP; it’s definitely a pedestal we have to live by. They were excited to see you.”

Healthy and motivated, Walker arrived back in Michigan this past fall and scored the NTDP’s first goal in the newly christened USA Hockey Arena.

It was a special moment for Walker.

“My history keeps me going,” he said. “Who would have thought that a kid from Idaho would make it and play for Team USA? I want to make an impact on hockey, and that makes me go forward each day.

“Coach [Danton] Cole told us last year that each day is a tryout. We need to compete on the ice, in the gym, in practice and off the ice. We have to learn to do anything with maturity and strength. To make that type of impression on people has really stuck with me.”

After recording three assists in 22 games last season, Walker already has five goals and six points in 36 games this year.

“Last year I was forced to pick up really quickly with no background,” he said. “This year, coach is holding me accountable. I’m up-to-date with the systems. My development and learning the plays has been beneficial for me. I’ve definitely seen an increase in my game.”

He also has noticed a big difference in the team’s outlook.

“This year, there is consistency with the team,” he said. “We have a tight group of guys. The game is more quick and fast, and we are making plays this year.

“I think we benefit when we use our speed. We are more mature than last year. It’s easier for us to play against teams in the USHL.”

The 6-foot, 198-pound forward said the work in the weight room has made a huge difference in his development.

“The weight room has been huge,” Walker said. “It definitely makes a difference for the battles in the corner against college defenseman. We can get caught out on our shift a little longer. We can see the transition in the weight room and how it translates on the ice.”

All that hard work has Walker excited to play at Boston College after his time with the NTDP wraps up. He also realizes just how different it will be.

“I’ve been here 1½ years, and it’s been the best years of my life,” he said. “The bonds that we developed as a team is something that I will never forget as a player. I’m excited to start a new chapter next year.

“The great part is [the NTDP] allows you to see teams, see how they play and learn the players. It gives you a picture of what is to come. Playing college games is a new intensity. You have to use speed and strength, and you do not have as much time with the puck.”

Walker already got a taste of what it will be like to play a Hockey East rival when the U18s won 7-4 at Boston University on Oct. 16.

“When we went to BU, where we have a few commits from this year’s team, including [current U18 goalie] Jake Oettinger,” Walker said. “He told me, ‘Walker this will be the only time you will win in this building.’ It’s been great to see the Hockey East teams, and I’m excited to be part of it next year.”

Despite the ups and downs, Walker appreciates his time with the NTDP and is cherishing every day he can wear the red, white and blue sweater.

“It means you are part of something bigger than self,” he said. “Every day, when you come to the rink, you have to put yourself aside and focus on the team. You need to make yourself 1 percent better each day. 

“You are representing the USA — it’s a privilege and an honor. You have the duty to be respectful. It’s been a great experience each day.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

NTDP News & Features

Photo by Rena Laverty

Zach's Favorites

Favorite NHL Team
Pittsburgh Penguins

Favorite U.S. Player
T.J. Oshie

Favorite Goal Celebration
Ice Grab

Favorite Movie
Step Brothers

Favorite Actress
Mila Kunis

Favorite Website

Favorite Home-Cooked Meal
Steak with Mashed Potatoes and Fruit

Favorite Activity Away from Rink
Drawing, Lacrosse, Going for Walks