May 30, 2015
"I wasn't a Lady Byng player."
That's how Massachusetts native Kurt Walker summed himself up as a hockey player. Based on his introduction to the National Hockey League, it was clearly a very accurate assessment.
The right shooting defenseman was never drafted but the Toronto Maple Leafs signed him for the 1975-76 season. After spending most of the season in the minor leagues with Oklahoma City, he got called up for a five game stint. He recorded an astounding 49 minutes in penalties. No goals. No assists.
His reward was to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Not surprisingly he was called upon because the Leafs faced off against the feared Philadelphia Flyers team - the Broad Street Bullies.
Walker - the seventh American born player to play for the Leafs - got into six post-season contests with the Leafs that spring. He toned it down a touch, only picking up 24 minutes in the penalty box. And of course no goals or assists.
The next two seasons were plagued by injuries, but when he did play it was primarily in the NHL with the Leafs. He even scored four goals and nine points in 66 games over the two campaigns. He picked up another 103 minutes in penalties, too.
The highlight of Walker's stay with the Leafs had to have been the 1978 Stanley Cup playoffs. He was a regular on defense that spring, playing in 10 of the Leafs 13 games. Again he never registered on the score sheet, but he did show some nice discipline with just 10 minutes in penalties.
Unfortunately Walker would never play in the NHL ever again after that spring. He was packaged away in a trade to Los Angeles but he would never play for the Kings. He played two more seasons in the minor leagues both decimated with injuries.
Over the course of his career he had some memorable fights with opponents such as Mel Bridgman, Stan Jonathan, and repeat bouts with Jack McIlhargey and Bugsy Watson. But it came at a steep price. After just seven seasons of pro hockey he was so banged up that he would have a total of 17 surgeries.
Kurt Walker has been very active in his retirement in advocating for retired hockey player rights and dignities, be it with financial or health related difficulties once they have left the game. He was instrumental in the creation of the Players Helping Players Foundation.
He lives near Atlanta.