By Lethbridge Herald on March 27, 2015.
Score a glowing endorsement for the current head coach of the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
Having played on a pair of powerhouse Hurricanes teams from 1988-90, Canes alumnus and former NHLer Wes Walz was back in Lethbridge Thursday afternoon.
Itâ€™s been nearly 25 years since he was a Hurricane, but Walz said heâ€™s kept a close eye on his former team over the years, including the Hurricanes struggles that have kept the team out of the post season since 2009.
â€œI follow it very closely and I know in the mid-1990s they had some really good teams that came through here and itâ€™s obviously been a struggle here for the past few years,â€ said Walz, in town for a surprise visit at the Lethbridge Scotiabank Raiders practice at Adams Ice Centre. â€œI know Peter Anholt was hired here recently.
â€œI am very excited about having Peter Anholt on board. He was assistant coach in Prince Albert a long time ago when I was 16 years old. Heâ€™s a tremendous hockey man who has been around a long time and has had his hand in many different situations, scouting and all kinds of different scenarios. I think weâ€™re in great hands right now.â€
Walz had 83 goals and 244 points in 119 games with the Hurricanes.
During his time in Lethbridge, Walz wasnâ€™t exactly surrounded by shabby company either.
In the 1989-90 season, Walz netted 54 goals and was one of five players to top the 50-goal mark that included Corey Lyons (63), Kelly Ens (62), Mark Greig (55) and Jason Ruff (55).
And it didnâ€™t take Walz long to run into one of his former teammates once he arrived in Lethbridge.
â€œJust ran into Jason Ruff working at the rink here forever, that guy never leaves the rink,â€ said Walz. â€œI still stay in touch with Corey Lyons and Mark Greig is a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers. Other than those three guys, Jason Ruff a little bit. Obviously itâ€™s been 25 or 30 years and everybody goes their separate ways.
â€œI was here five years ago or so for an event, the Wall of Fame. Bryan Trottier and my names went up, so it was always nice to get back to Lethbridge. But I did get a chance to get into town a couple hours early and I went over to the rink. Itâ€™s amazing to see the renovations that have gone on around the rink. Itâ€™s just a beautiful facility. Itâ€™s top-notch and Iâ€™m obviously very excited to get back here to Lethbridge.â€
And Thursday was all about surprising a young hockey team as members of the Raiders walked into their dressing room at Adams Arena only to be greeted by slew of local media.
After quizzically eyeing up the TV cameras set up in their dressing room, members of the Raiders got their answer as Walz was introduced as the surprise guest to round of applause and high-fives with the players.
â€œThe folks from Scotiabank reached out to me and asked me if I would be interested in giving back to the Lethbridge community and spending some time with some youth here,â€ said Walz. â€œObviously itâ€™s been 25 or 30 years since I played my junior hockey here in Lethbridge. I had a such a great experience the two years I was here. I played on some unbelievable teams and any time you get an opportunity to give back to youth sports, especially where you played, I usually jump at those opportunities. So Iâ€™m grateful for the opportunity.â€
Prior to taking the ice for practice, Walz shared a story with the Raiders about being a 10-year-old growing up in his hometown of Calgary and meeting Bobby Smith â€” then of the Minnesota North Stars â€” as Smith stepped off the team bus.
â€œI was 10-years-old, nearly the same age these kids are,â€ said Walz. â€œIt was very intimidating. I remember looking up at Bobby Smith, he happened to be about six-three or six-four, and he asked me if I wanted to play in the NHL and I said yes, I want to play in the NHL one day. He said â€˜Are you a good player?â€™ I said â€˜Iâ€™m a good hockey player.â€™ (He said) â€˜Being a great hockey player wonâ€™t be enough to get on this bus. Youâ€™ve got to be one of the hardest-working, great hockey players. Thatâ€™s how youâ€™ll have an opportunity.â€™ Itâ€™s amazing how something like that, when youâ€™re 10-years-old in 1980, sticks out to you. You never know. There might be a young hockey player that plays in the NHL in this room and maybe he passes that same information to someone else. It was something that always stuck with me.â€
Walz, who currently works as a sports analyst on Fox Sports North for the Minnesota Wild, also coaches youth hockey in Minnesota where his family resides.
â€œMaybe Iâ€™m biased because Iâ€™m a former hockey player, but when you talk to different people all over the world, whether theyâ€™re someone who works in a hotel or a cab driver, hockey players have always been fantastic for giving back to the kids and communities because all of the life lessons weâ€™ve learned to be good solid citizens come from winning and losing and comes from your coaching benching you and all these types of adversity you face that make you stronger as you get older.
â€œWe like to give back to the communities.â€