Just when Dylan Walchuk’s future looked a bit blurry last year, he was contacted by old friends he thought had forgotten about him.
The call came from the Spokane Chiefs, who had heard that Walchuk’s short time playing hockey at Northern Michigan University had ended and he was back with the Vernon Vipers of the British Columbia Hockey League.
“I was going to go back to Vernon to try to get another scholarship to a different school,” Walchuk said. “(The Chiefs) got wind of that. I literally hadn’t heard from them for three years.”
The next thing Walchuk knew, he was playing in the Western Hockey League for the first time at the ripe old age of 19.
The Chiefs had placed Walchuk on their 50-player protected list in December 2008 after watching him play for the Nelson Leafs of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League against the Spokane Braves.
The WHL wasn’t on Walchuk’s radar because he thought the collegiate game was his best option. Anyone who plays in the WHL can’t accept a hockey scholarship.
Walchuk had committed to Northern Michigan as a 16-year-old. To prepare for college, he sharpened his game playing for the Vipers, a Canadian Junior A team that won the Royal Bank Cup Championship in 2010.
But Walchuk had made a mistake by never visiting the NMU campus in Marquette, Mich.
“It wasn’t for me,” the McBride, B.C., native said. “I enjoyed my time there. The coaching staff was really good. I just didn’t like the city or school. I wanted to get out of there and just play hockey for a bit.”
After leaving NMU, Walchuk played six games for the Vipers before being added to the Chiefs’ roster on Jan. 10.
Walchuk became a reliable scorer during the second half of the Chiefs’ 2011-12 season, contributing 10 goals and 14 assists in 34 games.
“I think things started clicking right away,” he said. “I think I fit in pretty well.”
Walchuk found out for sure that the Chiefs intended to keep him as one of their three 20-year-old players this season when the team traded Davis Vandane to Prince Albert on Oct. 5.
Walchuk has already topped his 2011-12 numbers through 34 games this season. His nine goals and 24 assists give him 33 points, which ranks fifth on the team.
“I want to be a more all-around player,” Walchuk said. “I’m trying to be a little more offensive-minded. I have a decent amount of points, but I still feel like I can do better.”
Walchuk hopes to continue with hockey beyond this season, with returning to college in British Columbia as a backup option. He hasn’t picked a field of study, although he leaned toward sports science at Northern Michigan.
His parents, Stan and Marlene, met while teaching in northern Alberta. Marlene still teaches, but Stan now works as an outfitter.
Sister Aaron, 19, lives in Kelowna, B.C. Dylan visited her during the Chiefs’ just-completed holiday break.