A little over nine years ago, at the Guelph Storm training camp that was the beginning of a season culminating in a heartbreaking loss in the Memorial Cup final, I took my first photo of Cooper Walker.
Walker, who was 11 at the time, as a fixture around the rink that late summer before school started, tagging along with his dad and later scootering around the dressing room helping out on game nights.
That morning he was sitting in the stands, hanging out with the players and sitting beside Brock McGinn. I thought it was a neat shot, a wide-eyed kid rubbing elbows with junior players. I later sent the photo to his dad because he had told me that Brock was one of his favourite players.
It was one of the first things that went through my mind Wednesday when the team announced that Walker was the team’s new captain.
Primarily because Walker reminds me of McGinn in many, many ways.
No, the current Pittsburgh Penguin was never a Storm captain (he was an assistant), and Walker isn’t likely to match McGinn’s 43 goals in his final season.
But Walker’s quiet demeanour off the ice, his preference for the shadows over the limelight, his relentless on-ice tenacity and his thoughtfulness when asked questions and respect for the game are very much in line with McGinn.
Most of all, they both let their game do their talking. Relentless, tenacious and with an attention to detail that coaches love and fans often don’t notice.
Picking a captain is not an easy chore. Some feel the players should choose, which for teenagers can sometimes end up as a popularity contest.
Some coaches want a rah-rah type who reflects their own personality and can fire up a dressing room. Someone that can challenge teammates.
But that rarely seems to be needed in this day and age.
Most captains now are ones who earn the respect of teammates both on and off the ice. You want a captain who works as hard as anyone in practice and competes as hard as anyone once the game starts.
You also want someone who is trustworthy and compassionate, and who, for lack of a more intricate description, ‘gets it.’
Last Friday, minutes after a tough loss to the Flint Firebirds, Walker exited the Storm dressing room, still in full game gear, to go sign autographs for a couple of young fans eagerly hanging over the tunnel wall in anticipation. It’s something many Storm players have and will do.
As the young fans said thanks, Walker made a point of asking both the boys what their names were.
“Nice to meet you guys,” Walker replied, then headed back to the sullen dressing room.
A reminder that sometimes it’s the little things that show character.