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Waterloo offers a different Daniel Walker option

Daniel Walker is making no promises to Sudbury hockey fans that he will be any less annoying in the years to come. He's just hoping to be annoying in a different way.

The born and raised native of Valley East and veteran of more than 150 OHL games as a member of the North Bay Battalion and Oshawa Generals confirmed his commitment, earlier this week, to suit up with the University of Waterloo Warriors in the fall.

For a local product who has relished the role of visiting team nuisance, most notably in encounters staged at the Sudbury Arena, this latest opportunity offers the potential to tap into parts of his game that were far more prevalent in his minor hockey days.

"Every time I stepped on the ice (in the OHL), I had that responsibility to do my role, which was never to score - I didn't even have to focus on the puck - I just had to make nothing happened and that everyone knew not to mess with North Bay or Oshawa," said the young man who turns 21 in May.

"Obviously, that will always be part of my game, it's not something I can completely go away from. I still want to watch out for my teammates and provide a physical presence - Waterloo is a bit of a smaller team."

"But stepping away from that physical side, I'm hoping to tap into my skill that hasn't necessarily been asked of me for the past couple of years. Everyone always likes to score, so I'm hoping that this side of my game can show again."

With his 2019-2020 overage season curtailed due to injuries, the product of the Nickel City Hockey Association began to look at his options, beyond junior hockey. In Waterloo, Walker would find a suitor that was prepared to demonstrate more than just a casual interest in the 6'5" 220 pound power forward.

"When I first went to meet with (coach) Brian Bourque, I really didn't know where I wanted to go, I was weighing my options," said Walker. "I met with him and (ass't coach) Ben (Fanelli) and they went all out. I met all the guidance counsellors, fitness trainer, we had lunch with a bunch of the players - I just felt like they were really committed and really wanted me."

"I think we all like that feeling of being wanted."

Walker is just the latest in a very rapid string of OHL graduates confirming their Canadian post-secondary destinations in recent weeks, bi-passing the route of professional hockey leagues often two or three steps removed from the National Hockey League.

With university packages now part of almost every discussion with an OHL prospect looking to sign on the dotted line, the student-athlete alternative has proven appealing to a generation of hockey talent equipped with far more information than those who came along twenty years or more ago.

"To be honest, I don't think that by playing university, it necessarily means that you quit on your dreams," suggested Walker. "Every single kid still would love to play NHL hockey. But I think now we are more aware if that's even possible at a younger age. You want to be more realistic. You have to be very aware that making the NHL is a longshot, even for guys that are drafted in the first round in the NHL."

"This is an extra five years where you can still enjoy the game," Walker added.

"I think we're just looking more long-term instead of short-term. At one time, you could get a job coming right out of hockey, but now days, you need two degrees just to get a decent job. Players are being more responsible."

Set to pursue his studies in the Sports Business program, though he admits to still have only a very vague idea as to his actual career interests, Walker will join a team that also includes goaltender and former North Bay teammate Julien Sime, as well as assistant coach and former Oshawa General Brett MacLean, who still maintains ties with family in Capreol.

The 2020-2021 OUA men's hockey schedule has not yet been finalized. And though the Waterloo Warriors and Laurentian Voyageurs did not meet last year, it's fair to say that Daniel Walker would look forward to a return trip north with a great deal of anticipation.

Perhaps not quite as much, however, as Sudbury Wolves' fans, who have become well acquainted with their northern Ontario counterpart in recent years. Even if it is a different Daniel Walker that awaits them.

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