Sean Walker easily is one of the best defensemen in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
The Bowling Green senior does everything well.
He skates well, enabling him to defend against any player in the league and then join the rush after making a great first pass.
The 5-foot-11, 196-pounder can be physical. He shoots the puck well. He skates on the power-play and penalty-killing units. The tireless competitor is on the ice late in the final minutes of close games, whether BG is ahead, behind or tied.
And he’s BG’s captain for the second straight season.
Walker is one of BG’s most valuable players.
The next challenge for Walker and the Falcons comes this weekend when they visit WCHA regular-season champion Bemidji State for a best-of-3 series in the semifinals of the league playoffs.
Walker was a second-team honoree on the All-WCHA team announced Thursday. He also was a second-team pick last season.
“There’s lots of layers to Sean’s game,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said of Walker, who is on the ice for 20-25 minutes of a 60-minute game.
But this season hasn’t been easy for Walker, who has been BG’s most consistent senior. As captain, he’s a team leader. And when he’s struggled, he’s tried to do too much on the ice and do things on his own and not as a team.
“That takes away from the team as a whole,” Walker said. “ That’s something I have to be mindful of. I want to win badly, and I want to go out and do it all by myself, and that’s not how it should be done. Stick to the game plan and let everyone contribute, that’s how you win games.”
“He plays so hard all the time, and he cares so much,” Bergeron said. “What he’d try to do is put the team on his shoulders and do it all by himself. He wants it that badly. What we’re trying to say is, ‘I understand you want it that bad, but if you can just do your part and simplify your game, that’s you showing you want it. That’s you giving the lead we’re looking for.’”
Walker has simplified his game late in the season. He has two goals and four assists in the last five games, to along with an on-ice rating of +5 with just one penalty for two minutes. He also has 25 shots on goal in that span.
The Falcons have won five straight games to improve to 19-17-2 overall going into the Bemidji series. After BG was picked to win the WCHA championship by coaches and media, it was just 14-17-2 overall and 12-13-1 in the league entering the final three weekends of the regular season.
The Falcons finished fourth in the league, but now they’re playing the way many expected them to play all season.
“I’m playing pretty well now, just sticking to the game plan and making sure we’re doing everything as a team and it’s kind of working out,” Walker said. “It’s an every-day process. You just have to go out there and lead by example.”
“He’s been so much more effective and efficient by simplifying,” Bergeron said. “He’s just a competitive guy who thinks he can do more, wants to do more.”
Walker’s played consistently well since coming to BG, but this season has been his best. He has 10 goals and 14 assists in 38 games, while being a +13 and leading the team with 127 shots on goal. His goals and 24 points are career highs, and he needs just four assists to match his career best. He also has five power-play goals this season.
Walker’s 10 goals this season are just two shy of his total during his first three seasons, and they double his total in each of the last two seasons.
He’s also reduced his penalty minutes since last season. He totaled 30 penalties for 85 minutes as a sophomore, but had just 24 penalties for 48 minutes last season, and has 18 penalties for 36 minutes this season. He hasn’t had a major penalty during the last two seasons.
And Bergeron said Walker’s still been the “elite-level defender” the Falcons enjoyed during his first three seasons. He’s a +45 in his career.
“I’m happy he’s graduating,” joked Bemidji coach Tom Serratore, who has watched Walker play well against his team for four seasons. “I’m a big Sean Walker fan. He’s a heck of a defenseman.
“He shoots the puck well,” Serratore added. “He’s tough, and he’s hard to play against. He plays the game the right way. He eats up minutes. He can play in any situation. He can defend. He can generate offense. He has a very good skill set. His game is very balanced. He’s one of the top all-around defenders in our league.”
Despite Walker’s development, many college coaches overlooked him during the recruiting process. Even though most of Walker’s teammates were earning scholarships, he was one of the last players to receive an offer.
His only scholarship offer didn’t come until late in his final season of junior hockey with the Newmarket Hurricanes in the Ontario Junior Hockey League. And it came from the Falcons.
The Falcons watched Walker play in late January 2013. He visited BG in late March 2013, and was offered a scholarship. He committed to the Falcons shortly after that. He quickly became a regular at BG and steadily improved his game each season.
The BG coaches knew Walker would be a good player, but he’s developed into an even better player than they thought.
Once his college career is over, Walker is looking to have a career in pro hockey. The 22-year-old undrafted free agent probably will begin in the ECHL or the American Hockey League.
Walker will graduate in May with a degree in supply chain management where he has a 3.1 grade-point average. When his hockey career is finished, Walker hopes to have a career in distribution. His dad, Andy, is the Ontario distribution manager for Molson Coors Canada.
“He’s been willing since day one, probably more so off the ice than on,” Bergeron said. “I don’t know if he really knew what training was. He’s absolutely wrapped his arms around that. He’s in elite shape, both conditioning and strength.”