Any sentence that contains the words “Carolina Hurricanes” and “Boston Bruins” and “playoffs” is going to end up working its way around to Scott Walker eventually. The hard-headed forward was the epicenter of that playoff series 10 years ago, from his Game 5 punch of Aaron Ward to his overtime goal in Game 7, buffeted by waves of emotion no one other than his teammates understood.
Walker had just finished watching the junior team he co-owns, the Guelph Storm, play in the Ontario Hockey League championship series Monday night when he saw that the Hurricanes and Bruins would meet again, this time in the Eastern Conference finals, and it all came back to him in a rush.
When he scored that overtime winner in 2009, Walker and the Hurricanes knew – but no one outside the team knew – that Walker’s wife Julie had just been diagnosed with cervical cancer. She’s fine now, but it was a difficult time for the Walker family and a joyous time, all at once.
“It just brings up a lot of memories – good, bad, indifferent,” Walker said Monday night from Guelph, where the Storm won Game 3 of the OHL finals. “I just had Cory Stillman at my house yesterday and it’s amazing how you still talk about the good times. And it shows how people can band together in the tough times.”
Watching the Hurricanes in these playoffs – and he has been watching, closely – brought back memories for the 45-year-old Walker even before Monday night, who coached Guelph for five years and is now the director of player development for the Vancouver Canucks.
He wasn’t the only one who thought Jordan Staal’s game-tying goal in Game 7 against the Washington Capitals in 2019 was a dead ringer for Eric Staal’s game-winner in Game 7 against the New Jersey Devils in 2009 – or that Brock McGinn’s overtime goal to beat the Capitals looked an awful lot like Walker’s overtime goal to beat the Bruins, crashing the crease to knock the puck out of midair.
“He had to outdo me and do it in double OT,” Walker joked.
McGinn, in turn, remembers watching Walker’s game-winner at home with his parent as a 15-year-old, long before he knew Walker.
“I remember after he scored, him jumping and down,” McGinn said Tuesday. “When you play for him, he talks about moments when he played, situations he’s been in. That’s one he wouldn’t really forget. I won’t forget either.”
McGinn’s success is especially gratifying for Walker, having coached McGinn in Guelph five years ago and recommended him to then-Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford. But there are also former teammates Rod Brind’Amour and Jeff Daniels behind the Carolina bench, and a whole host of friends made in his four seasons in Raleigh.
Walker is not at all surprised at Brind’Amour’s adaptation to coaching, having admired Brind’Amour as a player. Walker joked that he could never quite break through Brind’Amour’s shell as a teammate, but the then-captain-now-coach’s legendary work ethic pushed him and everyone else to work a little harder.
It’s a surprising admission from Walker, who never seemed like the type to take a shift or a workout session off. He was never the biggest player but played relentlessly, physically, always right on the edge, and he could score when given the opportunity. If that sounds a little like McGinn, it’s probably not a coincidence given the time they spent together.
Walker raves about McGinn’s toughness and willingness to play the game the right way, and McGinn’s parents and family, but while he sees McGinn back home in Ontario during the summer, Walker also never quite felt comfortable reaching out to McGinn after his game-winner, as much as it reminded him of his own.
“They get busy,” Walker said. “They’ve got their own lives. It’s hard in the playoffs to stay connected. I don’t know whether those guys love me or hate me. It’s hard for those guys to stay in touch. All’s I ever tried to do was teach those guys to be pros.”
McGinn laughed at that.
“I loved him as a coach,” McGinn said.
Watching the Hurricanes, and Walker has watched closely, it’s hard to shake the memories of 10 years ago. He remembers sitting on the visiting bench near the end of Game 7 in New Jersey, his mind wandering between shifts to the drudgery of packing up the house for the summer. Then Jussi Jokinen scored. And then Eric Staal scored. And then Walker was hopping over the boards for handshakes.
In his 15-year NHL career, that was by far the longest playoff run he ever had. There’s something about going that deep that builds bonds that losing in the first round doesn’t, bonds that can’t be broken all these years later.
And watching this team going through the same kind of experience, for Walker, it all comes echoing back.
“Brock McGinn’s overtime game winner, just like mine, you just wonder if that’s a coincidence,” Walker said. “Just like me scoring that overtime winner with what my wife was going through, you wonder if there’s not something else happening. I’m working with the Canucks so I can’t cheer too hard for (the Hurricanes), but we’re not in the playoffs right now, so I can quietly. I definitely have a soft spot for the Hurricanes.”
Safe to say the Hurricanes fans who remember Walker still have a soft spot for him. It’s impossible to think about 2009 without thinking about Walker. So much so, it’s impossible to think about the rematch a decade later without thinking about him.