CALGARY -- With roughly $1.5 billion worth of players under contract participating in a walk-through practice at Canada's Olympic orientation camp, there was no shortage of star power in Calgary.
But it was an unknown that was the biggest attraction on the floor.
Former Spokane Chiefs and University of Calgary Dinos forward Dylan Walchuk wound up an emergency substitute for Joe Thornton, who was unable to arrive at camp due to a family matter.
"[It's] like a dream come true, kind of," said Walchuk, who found out late Sunday night he'd be participating. "I don't know, it was sweet just seeing those guys on TV all the time and getting to play with them. They're all good guys. It's an experience I'll never forget."
Walchuk's Dinos helped Canada's coaching staff prepare for their walk-through by participating in one of their own. When Thornton wasn't able to join his fellow Olympic hopefuls in Calgary, coach Mike Babcock summoned the 21-year-old.
"I think I just got lucky, I don't know," Walchuk said. "The coaches came out and put our team through a walk-through the other day and I guess someone got sick or someone didn't show up and they called me to fill in. Why not?
According to Babcock, Walchuk earned the honor.
"We put them through the paces and that kid was the best kid on the ice by a million miles, so when Thornton couldn't come in, that's how life should be is when you do good things, good things happen," he said. "He did a good job. He didn't have to. He did a good job, was excellent out there. We phoned him last night and said, 'Do you want to come?' Great."
It didn't take long for the 5-foot-9 forward to jump at the opportunity. Walchuk took all of 10 minutes to compose himself before confirming his availability.
The jitters didn't stop when he walked into the dressing room and took his spot between two of the game's best. If anything, it raised them.
"Actually I walked in the dressing room and I looked at the two stalls beside me and it was Sidney Crosby and Brad Marchand," Walchuk said. "That was pretty exciting for me when I looked at that. I couldn't sit beside two better guys, I don't think."
He passed on the opportunity to talk the ear off the Pittsburgh Penguins' captain.
"I talked to Sid a little bit but other than that, not really," Walchuk admitted.
In one drill, Ottawa Senators defenseman Marc Methot swatted away Walchuk's deke. On the very next play, the 5-foot-9 forward slipped the ball between Methot's feet, drawing approval from teammates at the bench, including linemate Hall.
"It was fun to see him out here," said Hall, who is just two months older than Walchuk. "I'm sure he's having a blast being around all these guys. He did pretty good. He didn't mess up any drills, which is more than I can say if I was in his shoes. ... I'm sure he's making all his buddies jealous. He did a good job. He was on my line, and we didn't get into any trouble from the coach, so it was good."
Though he only decided to attend the University of Calgary two weeks ago after exploring options in Europe and the ECHL, Walchuk may make a change in plans.
“I think I’ll be on the first line with Sid," he said with a grin. "I need a good start"
Walchuk may get the opportunity to take to the floor alongside Crosby again -- Thornton reportedly has canceled his trip because his son is ill.
Regardless of whether he gets another shot, Walchuk has already taken something from the camp.
"I think just the experience and seeing how every guy, their demeanor and the way they come to the rink and act is something that a guy like me should pick up on how the pros do it."
And possibly some Hockey Canada swag as well.
"I want to take these shoes, actually," he said. "They're pretty nice shoes. I'm going to hop the glass and get out of here."
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