Joel Walkey grew up playing hockey and was also a varsity high school athlete and he always wanted to explore the possibilities of combining his love for sports with an occupation that pays the bills.
The Prince George Spruce Kings are going to make that happen for the 25-year-old now that they’ve hired Walkey as their athletic trainer.
With two years of kinesiology at the College of New Caledonia behind him, combined with a four-year athletic and exercise therapy degree he just completed at Camosun College in Victoria, Walkey can’t wait to get started at his job keeping the Spruce Kings healthy for the full-contact hijinks they’re sure to get once they return to playing games in the B.C. Hockey League.
“I am beyond excited to return to Prince George and to help contribute to a team that means so much to the community,” says Walkey, who moved to Prince George from Squamish when he was six.
“I am thrilled that the stars aligned and allowed me to begin my career in my hometown. I am looking forward to doing my part in helping this team continue with the success of recent years.”
Attending school in Victoria gave Walkey work experience opportunities with Rugby Canada and he also volunteered his time in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League as a student trainer/medical attendant for the junior B Saanich Braves.
“Joel is a great fit for the organization,” said Kings general manager Mike Hawes. “Not only is he from Prince George but he is young, energetic, and understands what the Spruce Kings mean to the community. He is a great addition to our staff, and we are looking forward to having him start with us later this summer.”
Walkey saw firsthand why hockey teams need qualified training staff during the first of his three seasons with the Braves. They were playing in Game 6 of the league championship series against the Campbell River Storm when Walkey was called upon for an initial assessment of a scary incident when a Braves defenceman suffered a serious head injury in a collision with another player.
“That was pretty eye-opening getting into the first year, I was by myself at that point because one of the other students had to leave the team,” said Walkey. “The guy (who got hit) was repeating himself every 15 to 30 seconds for the next two days. His brain just kind of kept hitting reset over that period. He thought he was back in November and it was late-March and he had his playoff beard all grown out and he was like, ‘Why is my beard so long.’
“We told him we were going into Game 7 of the league finals and he was like, “We’re not that good,’ because at that point of the season (November) we weren’t.”
Walkey’s roots in the city run deep. He grew up watching Spruce Kings and Cougars games, played minor hockey until his second year of bantam and also made the senior volleyball and basketball teams at College Heights Secondary School.
“I was always interested in sports, I loved that team environment and I did pretty well in biology and loved studying the human body,” he said. “I kind of wanted to do physiotherapy but wasn’t sure I wanted to commit that right out of high school.
“Athletic therapy peaked my interest. All these pro and semi-pro sports teams have athletic therapists working with the teams and aren’t quite as removed as physiotherapists are, so that was a big thing for me.”
Walkey knows Cougars athletic trainer Mike Matthies, who graduated a year ago from the Camosun program, and he’s already offered to be a sounding board for Walkey in his job with the Spruce Kings. He says he will always be looking to advance to a higher level and Kings management is encouraging him to use his BCHL opportunity as a springboard.
“One of Mike’s (Hawes) big things is he wants the team to be a development team, whether it’s players moving on the NCAA or coaches moving on to the next level, and he stressed that to me he wants everybody to improve their game and move on to bigger and better things,” said Walkey.
“I haven’t worked with a team in a full-time capacity yet and I’ll actually be able to put my thumb-print on it a little bit, just in the way players are rehabbing, and I’ll be able to spend more time working with the staff.”