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Insider: Walker provides Fuel with veteran boost

Note: The following was written by Indy Fuel Insider Andrew Smith, editor of the Indy Puck blog. The Fuel are proud to partner up with Smith and Indy Puck to bring fans more comprehensive coverage of the team on and off the ice. To read more of Smith’s work, visit IndyPuck.com.

When the Indy Fuel announced their first veteran signing in the summer, a second one came shortly thereafter.

Geoff Walker working around the net while playing for the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch. Walker signed with the Fuel last week. (Photo courtesy of Syracuse Crunch)

Geoff Walker and Cam Reid only played together in Reading for a handful of games two seasons ago, but they quickly meshed on the same line – with Reid the playmaker and Walker the scorer. They’ll have an opportunity to do so again this season. When Reid signed with the Indy Fuel this summer, Walker followed as the first two veterans under contract for the 2017-18 season.

Walker joins the Fuel after playing the 2016-17 season in Europe. A high-scoring forward, he’s tallied 20 goal seasons in the ECHL, nearly hit that mark in the AHL, and is returning to Indy after posting an outstanding 2016-17 season in Europe.

“I was injured that year, but we played together for those first five or six games,” Walker said of playing with Reid. “We had great chemistry. He’s an elite offensive center, but he plays both ways. Once I saw he was there, it made me want to go there, just to know that kind of quality is there. It’s a big selling point. I think we can build on what we did in the early stages of that year. I think we can have a really good team.”

At 6-3, 225 pounds, Walker brings a lot of size to the wing in Indy, giving the team a dimension at power forward that can be rare in the ECHL. He describes himself as a power forward who excels on the power play, and is also willing to stick up for his teammates if need be.

Walker looks forward to being part of the core of a strong team that built momentum at the end of last season. Head coach Bernie John has been revamping the roster – signing Walker and Reid to fill the vet spots, and bringing in a number of versatile players who can fill different roles. All of that comes with an expectation are to have a strong season and make the postseason for the first time in the franchise’s history.

Walker’s next game in the Indiana Farmers Coliseum will be his first – laughingly noting, “it’s about the only building in the league I haven’t played in,” but he’s looking forward to settling into being a leader on an improving team.

“Bernie (John) said, the successful teams in this league, they have a strong core of four or five older guys who stay there and wear the letters, they’re the leaders, everyone else follows them,” Walker said. “I think that’s what Bernie’s trying to do this year – to build that bit of a core, and hopefully, they lead the way. Any good team, the leadership is strong and everyone just follows suit. You’ve got to be that guy. Some guys are vocal, some guys are more on the ice leaders, you have to find the way you lead the best.”

He’s a native of Prince Edward Island, where he came from the island’s tight-knit hockey community in youth hockey, and remained in the province as a junior to play with the Charlottetown Islanders.

“Growing up on PEI, you really have to work for everything you get,” Walker said. “That’s really been instilled in a lot of us – that nothing comes easy, you’re going to have to work for it. That’s something that helped me in my career. Everyone knows each other, has each other’s back.”

As a rookie in 2008-09, Walker worked his way up from turning pro on an ECHL contract and tallying 21 goals with Ontario, to playing in the American Hockey League, where he had an 18-goal, 44-point season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2011-12. That led to playing two seasons on National Hockey League deals in the Colorado and Tampa Bay organizations.

Walker played most of five seasons – from 2009-14 – in the AHL before playing a full season in the ECHL in 2014-15. He started the following year in Reading – tallying six points in five games – before missing the remainder of the year with an injury.

With ECHL rosters being a mixture of veterans, young players looking to move up and players on AHL and NHL contracts who are matriculating up the affiliate chain, that experience is valuable in the dressing room.

“You always see some guys light up the ECHL and have a hard time cracking and staying in the AHL. If you’re not really, really high-end skill or prospect, it’s hard to play on the first couple of lines, there are so many guys that are so good,” Walker said. “For myself, you have to carve out a niche for yourself, whether it be a checking role, fighting a little bit, just whatever you can do to stay there. I did that for five years. It was awesome. I think that’s the biggest difference – finding that niche for yourself and figuring out how to get there. I got there as a rookie, working my way up to a couple of NHL deals. I can bring that to this team, with some guys that are looking to move up and go to the next level. I know what it takes to get there.”

Walker comes to Indy after an impressive season. In the Alps Hockey League, he had 56 points in 31 games and led the league in scoring. He then finished the year in Britain with the Sheffield Steelers, with whom he won the Elite Ice Hockey League championship.

“Italy was good. It was different – we were up in the Alps, it was a different experience,” Walker said. “I led the league in scoring. I liked it a lot there. You enjoy your time. I really enjoyed Sheffield, as well. We won the playoffs there. It was a crazy couple of weeks in the playoffs. Last year was great. I really enjoyed.”

The EIHL has a number of former ECHL players. The Sheffield roster with whom he won a title included former Fuel blueliner Anders Franzon. Fuel alumni Matt White and Shane Owen are among a number of familiar faces in the league.

“That league is really good and getting better. A lot of the better ECHL players go play there,” Walker said of playing in Britain. “It’s almost like playing in the States, with the language, the restaurants, the fans are great. I think the culture shock in Italy was a lot different, being in the mountains. It makes the transition for the guys that.”

He said the biggest difference was the larger ice surface. But his year in Europe was also key, as he tallied more than a point a game.

“The ice is the big difference – you have a lot more time. The D-zone is harder because it’s harder to get the puck back,” Walker said. “I really found my touch again last year after a couple of years with some injuries. I think I can bring a lot to this team with leadership and the way I play. I’m looking to have a good year and get this thing going in the right direction.”

He relishes the high expectations and is looking forward to leading the Fuel into the next season.

“Talking to Bernie and Jim (Hallett, Fuel owner), everything they seem to be doing is something I want to be a part of,” Walker said. “Hockey is big there. The fans deserve a good team and I think that’s what Bernie is doing this year. Ultimately, it’s on us players and older guys to lead the way.”