You don’t have to tell Geoff Walker what his big break during the 2008-09 season with the Ontario Reign meant to his career.
“I didn’t want to leave Ontario,” he said, a day after the Reign announced that Walker’s rights had been traded to the Wheeling Nailers.
“Karl gave me a great opportunity, and the fans – it was kind of like my second home. It’s really disappointing in that sense, but it’s about my career. You have to set some of those (sentimental) things aside.”
Walker had known for some time that he would be signing in the AHL with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. He also knew the contract was contingent on a trade from Ontario to Wheeling. The native of Prince Edward Island said he had no desire to move closer to home, however.
“I love Ontario,” Walker said. ”It’s got a special place in my heart. I didn’t really want to leave, but sometimes you have to make hard decisions. One had to be made.”
Although there were other AHL offers, Walker said, Wilkes-Barre offered the best chance to advance. Most likely, the thinking was that Walker could reach the NHL quickly with the excess of centers and relative lack of wingers in Pittsburgh, the NHL affiliate of Wilkes-Barre and Wheeling.
A 6-foot-3, 225-pound right wing with gifted hands, Walker scored five goals and 14 points during a 37-game AHL stint with the Manchester Monarchs last season. Now, he’s looking forward to playing against some of his former Reign teammates; Manchester and Wilkes-Barre play each other frequently during the regular season. Walker could soon be shooting on former Reign goalie Jeff Zatkoff, or crashing into Bud Holloway or Dwight King.
But first, he will take part in the Penguins’ rookie tournament in London, Ontario from Sept. 11-14. Walker and his teammates will face off in scrimmages against the Chicago Blackhawks, Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators rookies.
“Then we go from there,” he said. ”I’m excited about it.”