After answering the call of national hockey duty, 21-year-old Dylan Walchuk has a new nickname to go with his newfound fame.
He's the Pride of McBride, and he's put his small town on the NHL map as a fill-in forward playing ball hockey last week with Canada's best pro hockey players.
Walchuk, who wrapped up his junior career last spring with the Spokane Chiefs, was preparing for his first season with the University of Calgary Dinos when he was invited to join the Canadian Olympic team for its workouts as an emergency replacement. The team was without the services of San Jose Sharks forward Joe Thornton, whose two-month-old baby was in hospital, and forward Claude Giroux, who was recovering from finger surgery.
Head coach Mike Babcock handpicked Walchuk after watching him play with the Dinos in a ball hockey scrimmage, which served as a test event for the Olympic team camp.
[The Dinos] had a team party the night before, a double-kegger, and we put them through the paces, and that kid was the best kid on the ice by a million miles, Babcock told the Globe and Mail.
We phoned him up and said, Do you want to come? His stall was next to [Sidney] Crosbys. He did a good job, he was excellent out there. Thats how life should be. When you do good things, good things happen. Thats the best story of this whole thing so far.
Walchuk, a five-foot-nine, 170-pound centre, had been considering his options playing hockey in Europe but decided two weeks ago to enrol at the U of C. His timing, with the Olympic team training in Calgary, could not have been better.
"It was sweet just seeing those guys on TV all the time and getting to play with them," Walchuk told Aaron Vickers of nhl.com. "They're all good guys. It's an experience I'll never forget."
Walchuk played on a line with Taylor Hall of the Edmonton Oilers and Jordan Stall of the Carolina Hurricanes and did not look out of place.
It was fun to see him out here, said Hall, on nhl.com. Im sure hes having a blast being around all these guys. He did pretty good. He didnt mess up any drills, which is more than I can say if I was in his shoes. Im sure hes making all his buddies jealous.
He did a good job. He was on my line, and we didnt get into any trouble from the coach, so it was good.
Walchuk played tyke and atom hockey in McBride and made regular visits with his teams to Prince George rinks, eventually settling in Kamloops, where he played his peewee and bantam hockey. As a 16-year-old junior rookie he led the Nelson Leafs in scoring. That got the attention of Northern Michigan University which offered him a full-ride scholarship. He played two full seasons in Vernon, scoring the goal that won the 2010 Royal Bank Cup junio A national championship before moving on to Northern Michigan in 2011.
After 19 college games, Walchuk decided he didn't like the school scene and returned to Vernon for a six-game stint before moving on to the WHL in Spokane. He finished his junior career with the Chiefs last season, collecting 19 goals and 39 assists for 58 points in 70 games. He also had three assists in nine playoff games for the Don Nachbaur-coached Chiefs.