On March 10, the Saskatoon Blades travelled to Moose Jaw and handed the host Warriors a 6-0 defeat. The Blades’ third consecutive win turned out to be their final game of the season.
It was also the final game of Scott Walford’s junior hockey career.
The Western Hockey League announced two days later that the season would be suspended due to the growing coronavirus pandemic and when teams began sending their players home on March 15, Walford, in his final year of junior eligibility, knew the writing was on the wall.
“I think everyone expected the season to be cancelled. It’s a sad way to end your 20-year-old season,” he said.
The Coquitlam, B.C., native is one of three Blades — Riley McKay and Nolan Kneen are the others — to have his career abruptly cut short. The team had five regular-season games remaining before opening the playoffs, where it was hoping to make a long run.
“Playing with 20-year-olds (in the past), they’ve said every year when we’ve got knocked out and our season’s ended, it’s hit them really hard that this is done. I don’t think it’s sunk in yet to me that my junior career is done,” Walford said.
Sudden end notwithstanding, the defenceman has an impressive WHL resumé.
In 290 regular-season games with the Blades and Victoria Royals, Walford recorded 30 goals and 144 assists along with 203 penalty minutes and a plus-20 rating. He added two goals and 11 assists in 24 playoff contests.
His point totals increased each season, culminating in a 12-goal, 54-point campaign in 2019-20 after the Blades acquired him in an off-season trade with the Royals.
“I thought that I had a good season. I had one stretch kind of in the middle that maybe stunted my chances at a point per game but that’s OK, it happens,” he said.
“Reflecting on the season, I learned so much from the coaches and teammates and definitely made a lot of relationships that are going to last a lifetime.”
Walford was selected by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2017 National Hockey League draft but did not sign a contract within the required two-year window. He’s now a free agent and believes he has done enough to draw interest from other NHL clubs.
“I wish that I had more time because I felt like my game was getting to a point where it was the best that I’ve been playing,” he said. “But I think with the body of work that I’ve put in, I hope that a team gives me a chance and I know if I get that chance then I’m gonna make the most of it.”
If an NHL opportunity does not present itself, Walford plans to make use of the WHL’s education package and continue playing hockey at the post-secondary level.
No matter what the future holds, he isn’t taking anything for granted.
“To play five years in one of the greatest junior hockey leagues in the world is a privilege and my parents supported me so much; friends, coaches, trainers, teammates past and present.
“I’m just really thankful for the opportunity that I’ve had.”
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers across Canada are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. In Saskatchewan, international travellers are already required to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return to the province.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.