CALGARY – Dylan Walchuk got a once-in-a-lifetime experience when Mike Babcock asked him to fill in for Joe Thornton during Hockey Canada’s walk-through at Olympic orientation camp.
The 21-year-old University of Calgary forward got to play ball hockey on a line with Taylor Hall and Jordan Staal and have a locker next to Sidney Crosby. Suffice to say, he’s the envy of his teammates and just about any Canadian hockey player.
“It’s pretty sweet,” Walchuk said. “Maybe I’ll see myself on TV tonight if I get lucky.”
But Walchuk didn’t just get lucky. He earned the spot after Team Canada’s coaching staff prepared for camp by putting the University of Calgary Dinos through the motions Saturday.
“Their team had a team party, a double-kegger the night before I came in,” Babcock said. “We put them through the paces and that kid was the best kid on the ice by a million miles. So when Thornton couldn’t come in, that’s how life should be is when you do good things, good things happen.”
Walchuk, who only two weeks ago decided to attend the University of Calgary, thought it was a joke when he got the invite. But Babcock was serious; Thornton could not attend camp because of a family situation, so the team needed one more player to fill out the lines.
Walchuk spent the past two seasons with the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL, putting up 58 points in 70 games last year. Coincidentally, Babcock coached the Chiefs for six seasons before moving on to the AHL.
At five-foot-nine and 170 pounds, the McBride, B.C., native isn’t an imposing force. He had been considering options in Europe and the ECHL before committing to the University of Calgary, which he hopes gives him better options once his four years there are done.
Monday’s experience might not directly help him toward that goal, but Walchuk is now something of a minor celebrity thanks to his walk-through cameo.
“It was like a dream come true,” he said. “To see those guys on TV all the time and then getting to play with them. They’re all good guys, and it was an experience I will never forget.”
Walchuk held his own amid the 45 NHL players. Babcock called his performance “excellent.”
“He did pretty good. He didn’t mess up any drills, which is more than I can say if I was in his shoes,” Hall said. “I’m sure he’s making all his buddies jealous.”
Pietrangelo puts contract situation aside
Alex Pietrangelo is a restricted free agent without a contract, but the St. Louis Blues defenceman is trying to avoid worrying about his situation while taking part in Canada’s Olympic camp.
“I’ve just kind of been moving forward as if I’m going to start the season like a regular year,” Pietrangelo said. “I’ve been working hard all summer, trying to put it behind me here for this week and trying to enjoy this process and hopefully something gets done here in the short term.”
Blues general manager Doug Armstrong is in Calgary as part of Hockey Canada’s management team and coach Ken Hitchcock is around as part of Babcock’s staff. Pietrangelo said the three shared the mind-set that “hopefully something gets done.”
New Jersey Devils restricted-free-agent centre Adam Henrique just signed his deal, six years and $24 million, Monday. New York Rangers restricted-free-agent defenceman Ryan McDonagh, whose stats are similar to Pietrangelo’s, recently signed a contract worth $28.2 million over six years.
Asked if he was confident a new deal would get done, Pietrangelo said he has to be. He’s not thinking about the potential Olympic consequences if he’s not on the ice to start the regular season.
“I’m not even thinking about holding out,” the 23-year-old said. “I’m thinking about training camp and being there September 11, 12, whenever we’re going to start up, and be ready for the first game of the season.”