Like the hockey fan that he is, Sammy Walker welcomed the return of the NHL playoffs earlier this month.
“It’s been really nice to have hockey back,” Walker said. “It gives you something to watch. There’s only a certain amount of Netflix shows you can watch.”
A steady diet of “Ozark” or “Mindhunter” can help pass some time amid the coronavirus pandemic, but for Walker, it pales in comparison to what he wants to do — lead the Gophers men’s hockey team. Thing is, he doesn’t exactly know when that’s going to be.
“We’ve been waiting to see what the season is going to look like,” said the Edina native, who served as a co-captain with senior Tyler Nanne as a sophomore last season. “We’ve been sitting back and waiting to hear.”
Though the Gophers are scheduled to start their season Oct. 3 against Bemidji State, the chances of an on-time start are slim. It’s more likely that the season will be delayed until late November or Jan. 1. Word from the NCAA on winter sports seasons is expected in the next few weeks.
“They’re waiting for Coach to have good news. Coach continues to say, ‘wait, wait, wait,’ “ Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. “I can understand they don’t want to hear that anymore. But they’re smart, they’re following everything. Our guys have been awesome. They’re living on hope right now, and that’s one thing young people are great at.”
Walker, who paced the Gophers with 30 points (11 goals, 19 assists) in 37 games last season, has spent the summer skating and working out. He’s part of a group of about eight Twin Cities-based Gophers who are hitting the 3M Arena at Mariucci ice.
The affable Walker also has tried his hand at coaching, working as an instructor for the Wes Walz Minnesota Wild Hockey School at the St. Louis Park Rec Center. He helped teach the 8-and-younger mites classification.
“Long days, but it was fun,” Walker said, adding with a laugh, “ … they tested my patience some days.”
Walker has had some experience tutoring youngsters. He basically was the captain in charge of the Gophers’ 11-player freshman class and their seven other sophomores last season, while Nanne led the juniors and seniors.
“It’s a huge honor,” he said of the captaincy, which presumably will continue in 2020-21. “You look back and see all the people who have worn the ‘C.’ Just to be in that category is unbelievable.”
Walker’s guiding philosophy as a team leader is “do unto others.”
“Everyone reacts to different leadership,” he said. “You’ve got to feel out your players. I led by example more because me as a person, I don’t speak out that much. What I tried to do as a captain is you treat everyone like how you’d like to be treated.”
As he and his teammates wait to hear when they’ll be playing, Walker is excited about the Gophers’ potential after a strong finish last season. Minnesota was two days away from playing Penn State in a Big Ten tournament semifinal when the season was canceled on March 12. The Gophers three weeks earlier had third-period leads against the Nittany Lions in State College, Pa., only to end up with a 3-3 tie (plus shootout loss) and a 3-2 regulation loss.
“Second half, we were rolling,” Walker said of the Gophers’ 11-5-3 record beginning Dec. 28. “We were clicking, and guys were feeling good. I think we would’ve taken it to ’em.”
The coronavirus, of course, took away that chance. Now, Walker and the Gophers wait for their next opportunity — whenever that might be.