BROSSARD - When Scott Walford first started taking French immersion, he probably never imagined it would come in handy for his hockey career. And then, he was drafted by the Canadiens.
"I took French immersion for nine years, so it's funny how that works out - that I might be able to use it in the future," recounted Walford, the Canadiens' third-round pick (68th overall) in the 2017 NHL Draft. "I had a good idea the Canadiens were interested when I got invited to their combine a couple of weeks before the draft. My meetings went really well, so I thought there was a good chance of me coming here."
Walford was at home in the kitchen with his family when he found out he was selected by the Habs. Needless to say, it was an exciting day in the life of the young blue-liner.
"It was a dream come true," glowed Walford. "It was a lot of emotions, but I never want to get too high or too low."
The 6-foot-1, 187-pound rearguard attended the Canadiens' development camp in early July and transformed himself into a sponge, ready to soak up as much knowledge and advice from the organization as he could.
"Now, it's just about listening to everything everyone is saying. There are more people talking to you who have a say in what the Canadiens are doing," Walford continued. "You really have to listen to that, respect it, and use it to make the Canadiens one day."
The pace may have been demanding and a challenge to his system, but the young blue-liner was fortunate to count on previous experience at Hockey Canada camps of a similar nature to help prepare for the endeavor.
"When you come to these camps, you know it's going to be grueling because of all the physical activity, all the practices and workouts. But everything here is very scientific and they definitely calculate what they're doing," explained Walford, who suited up for five games for Team Canada - Black at the 2015 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. "They're not overdoing it at this point in the summer, they're just trying to make sure we're working hard and learning as much as we can. That's the biggest emphasis here."
In his second full WHL campaign last season, Walford used his skills as a puck-moving defenseman to contribute six goals and 24 assists in 60 games for the Victoria Royals. Coming off his first development camp, the high-flying 18-year-old is primed to take his game up a notch as he continues his Junior career.
"It's definitely a lot faster. Instead of being a middle-aged guy in the Western Hockey League, I was one of the younger guys at camp," said Walford, whose four-point night in Vancouver in February tied a Royals franchise record for most points by a defenseman in a single game. "It was really good to learn the speed of the game and execution level. I think the execution level is sometimes overlooked as a factor in how good all these players are. Every player here is on a first or second line in Junior or college, so there's no one you can sleep on in these camps. It was a really good experience for me."
Walford works out with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' older brother, Adam, in the offseason, and will be back in his home province plying his trade with the Royals again this year. But with the draft and development camp behind him, the Coquitlam, BC native is now starting to dream about moving eastward - and putting his French to good use.
"There are a lot of emotions when you come to your first camp. It's something you dream about your whole life. To get to this point is definitely very cool, especially to be with a historic franchise like the Montreal Canadiens. They showed us around the Bell Centre a bit at the start of camp; you just see how big the rink is and how special the fans are," Walford concluded. "Hockey is not just a pastime to watch, it's really a part of everyone in Quebec. It's been an amazing experience so far."