By Woodard, Dale on January 27, 2020.
The Lethbridge Hurricanes Wes Walz played for back in the day had no problem putting the puck into the back of the net.
Neither does this year’s Hurricanes whose 189 goals in 47 games is fourth best in the league.
Still, Walz, who played for the Hurricanes from 1988-1990 said a commitment to the other end of the ice for a team with championship aspirations.
“This team has no problem scoring goals, but what I can tell you from my own experience is, listen, we scored a lot of goals when I played, too, but we didn’t get to the Memorial Cup,” said Walz, on hand as a guest speaker alongside Winnipeg Jets play-by-play man Dennis Beyak for the Hurricanes 14th Annual Celebrity Sports Dinner Saturday night at the Sandman Signature Lodge.
“If this team wants to have some success in the playoffs and they want to have a chance to get to the Memorial Cup, scoring is always going to be important but at the end of the day it’s always going to come back down to can this team defend when it matters the most. The guy scoring 50 or 60 goals a year, are they willing to play the right way when the game is on the line and not cheat for offence and play as a team? When the opportunity presents itself to play like that, if it happens, then this team will have success. I’ll be watching from afar, but it’s been exciting to see what has gone on this year.”
On Saturday, Walz returned to the place he played 30 years ago. He made his mark in his two seasons in southern Alberta, scoring 83 goals and 244 points in 119, earning the Jim Piggott Trophy as the WHL Rookie of the Year in 1989, also helping the Canes to an East Division title the following season.
He has, however, passed through over the years.
“The last time I was in Lethbridge was in June, because I drove through with my family,” said Walz, who went on to play 607 NHL games with the Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, Calgary Flames, Detroit Red Wings and Minnesota Wild. “We live in Minnesota and when the kids get out of school we always drive through Lethbridge to go back to British Columbia where our summer place is. So I drive through Lethbridge once a year, both ways. But today was the first day I actually went through the centre of Lethbridge to see how different everything looks. But prior to that the last time I was in Lethbridge was when I was inducted into the Wall of Honor (in 2011).”
Even passing through, Walz said he regales his kids of his junior days in Lethbridge.
“I’ve got five children in the oldest ones don’t travel with us anymore,” he said. “They’re 27 and 24, but I have a 13-year-old and a 10-year-old now. So they didn’t even see me play professional hockey because they were born after I retired. But I do explain to them that this is where I played my junior hockey and I lived here for two years and we had really good teams. The kids can get on the Internet and start looking you up. Even my son was like “Geez, dad, you guys hardly lost any games”. They looked me up, because that’s what kids do with technology now. So I do talk about Lethbridge every time I roll through.”
It’s a slightly different city than the one Walz played in at the end of the 80s.
“I don’t recognize anything,” he said. “There are a few more Tim Hortons around. I took an hour and drove around earlier today to see if maybe the old Luigi’s Pizza place where we used to go eat after home games with my mom and dad, that place is no longer there. There’s a Boston Pizza there now. So things have changed. It’s been 30 years and it’s amazing how fast my career is gone. If feels like a blink and then all the sudden now I’m here.”
On Saturday, Walz and Beyak headlined the festivities, posing for photos and handshakes with those in attendance.
“It’s outstanding,” said Walz. “To come back here and help raise some money for the organization, I know the organization has been in great hands with (Hurricanes general manager) Peter Anholt. The club is doing outstanding again. So the club looks like it’s in a great position to be successful for a long time. Personally, getting an opportunity to come back here, I’ve had four or five different people already come up to me and talk to me how they met me when I was 18 or 19-years-old. I had the chance to come in a little bit early today from Calgary. I flew into Calgary and stayed with my mom and dad last night. I drove in early so I could visit the billet family I live with. So I got a chance to visit with Don and Marg Gatto. Do you have a chance to go see them again was really special. They were awesome billets it’s for me to have while I was here.”
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