Sammy Walker stepped onto the ice at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Saturday and suddenly he was alone.
The customary rookie lap felt like it took an eternity for Walker as his Wild teammates let him skate a few circles by himself before finally joining him for warmups.
“Oh my god,” Walker told reporters Saturday night after making his NHL debut. “I thought they were never going to come out.”
That was about the only time Walker looked out of place as he helped spark the Wild to a 3-0 victory over the Canucks. Though he felt some nerves before the game, especially when he had to read the lineup card, Walker fit like a glove alongside Freddy Gaudreau and opposite Matt Boldy.
“We meshed well together,” Boldy said. “I thought we played well and had a lot of chances. He was flying around. It’s nice to have guys like that moving.”
The best scoring chance of the night for Walker came after Boldy sprung him for a partial breakaway. With a chance to score a goal in his NHL debut, Walker fended off Canucks defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson before firing the puck over the goal.
“I tried to go upper right,” Walker said. “Just missed the net.”
The fact that Walker garnered a breakaway in any capacity impressed coach Dean Evason.
“He’s got speed,” Evason said. “If you get a breakaway in your first game in the National Hockey League, you know that you can get going.”
That speed has been a calling card for Walker throughout his rise up the ranks. After dominating at Edina High School as a teenager, Walker starred for the Gophers men’s hockey team, finishing his collegiate career as the only three-year captain in the program history.
He signed with the Wild over the summer, and quickly proved himself with the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League, recording 11 goals and 11 assists in 21 game before getting called up.
Now it could be awhile before he gets sent down.
“He conducted himself very well in all areas,” Evason said. “He didn’t panic. When a young guy like that in his first game hangs onto pucks, and he doesn’t throw them away, it shows he has a bit of poise. That was nice to see. It should get better as we go along.”
It’s a good bet that Walker is in the lineup Monday night when the Wild host the Oilers at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. As excited as he is for the chance to play 20 minutes or so from where he grew up, Walker will now forever have a soft spot for Rogers Arena in Vancouver.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “A dream come true.”