Sammy Walker jarred the puck free and ignited his turbo boost to create a breakaway for himself. Then he did something really cool.
He slowed up and waited for linemate Jett Jungels to catch up.
“You have a better chance of scoring when you have a 2-on-0 than a 1-on-0,” Walker said. “So I just figured I would wait for him.”
That split-second decision showed that Walker is not only supremely talented and unselfish but also pragmatic. Two is better than one, and his instincts proved true.
Walker turned down his own prime scoring chance to thread a perfect pass to Jungels, who buried a shorthanded goal in the second period of Edina’s 7-1 runaway victory over Lakeville North in Thursday’s Class 2A boys’ hockey quarterfinals.
Walker is a Gophers signee, Mr. Hockey finalist and Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year.
He’s as good as advertised. So is his team.
Edina kicked off play in the big-school bracket with a forceful showing in what promises to be another barnburner weekend in this storied tournament.
A Duluth East fan captured the spirit of the event in an elevator outside Xcel Energy Center before the first quarterfinal session.
“I’ve been waiting for this for months,” said the woman, who didn’t leave disappointed after senior Garrett Worth notched a hat trick in Duluth East’s 5-0 victory over St. Michael-Albertville.
The Edina-Duluth East semifinal features four Mr. Hockey finalists and two teams that combined to score 318 goals this season. That should be a doozy.
Walker got warmed up by collecting four assists and one goal while displaying a feathery touch on passes all over the ice.
“He’s been like that all year,” Edina coach Curt Giles said. “Seriously. That’s an average night’s work for him.”
His average is special. And not just his talent. The vast majority of players would have tried to score themselves on that breakaway. And with Walker’s speed and skill, why not? Instead, he waited to set up his teammate because it was a better option than what was already a really good option.
That’s the mark of a player who possesses an instinctive feel for the game.
“He can take that thing down there and blast it or do whatever he wanted to do,” Giles said. “But the first thing that clicked into his head is, ‘Where is my linemate?’ ”
That unselfishness flows throughout Edina’s lineup, especially on the top line of Walker, Jungels and winger Mason Nevers. All three scored 20-plus goals this season, but they seem to gain more satisfaction from a beautiful assist.
Their line accounted for five goals and six assists against Lakeville North.
“Our chemistry and vision on the ice is amazing,” Walker said.
Walker is their conductor at center. His reputation as a speed-burner on skates is deserved, but his passing touch is equally impressive. He is smooth distributing the puck, which puts shooters in ideal scoring position.
Walker credits his quick hands on years spent working on stickhandling with his two older brothers. Giles said he believes some of it is just natural ability.
“He’s got some skills that are hard to teach,” Giles said. “He has top-end speed and a great set of hands.”
His speed separates him from the pack, literally in some instances. He showed his extra gear on his shorthanded goal in the first period.
Walker gained possession of a loose puck near the bench. He broke to the middle and almost immediately spotted Lakeville North’s Blake Brandt in his face.
Walker flipped the puck up the ice, jumped around Brandt and then raced to retrieve the puck for a breakaway. He zipped a wrist shot for the goal.
“You just can’t teach speed,” Nevers said.
Certainly not speed like that. Now for the scary part. Walker was sick the past week with an illness that physically drained him.
“He was struggling for a while,” Giles said.
When did he start feeling better?
“Obviously [Thursday],” Giles said, smiling.
A goal and four assists on this stage is the perfect medicine.