Belfast Giants hero Walton’s goals in sight
Graeme Walton’s name has appeared on a Belfast Giants team sheet more times than anyone else.
It’s fair to say that the scorers pen hasn’t written it down anywhere near as many times.
Until recently that is. All of a sudden Walton’s name is on the lips of every Belfast Giants fan.
Earlier this month he broke the club’s appearance record and then started on a goalscoring streak that has seen him hit a personal high.
The 30-year-old Dundonald-born defenceman was given a new role in the team by coach Doug Christiansen during his injury and suspension crisis and he’s been flying on the wing.
The ‘white line’ of Darryl Lloyd, Adam Keefe and Walton has been delivering goals. Walton has hit four in a month — more than he’s scored in a season before and for the first man to play 10 seasons as a Giant life is good.
“Our line is more about keeping things tight, trying to wear down the other teams’ top line and generally keeping things simple,” said Walton.
“We’ve sort of clicked and the goals have been going in. Adam Keefe has been scoring a few goals, Darryl Lloyd has been scoring a few goals and I’ve scored a few as well.
“We’re contributing to the team and we’ve been helping the team win a few games, so everything is good.
“It was great to score the first one. I don’t score many, but once you get one in the season the second one is easier to come by. It’s a great feeling to get the monkey off the back and to contribute to the team a bit more.”
Walton, Keefe and Lloyd — who scored back-to-back hat-tricks either side of Christmas — have more than played their part in the Giants stretching their lead at the top of the Elite League table to seven points.
The gap over the Nottingham Panthers could — or rather should — increase tonight when the Edinburgh Capitals arrive at the Odyssey Arena.
Let’s face it, if the Giants are going to win the league they shouldn’t be losing to Edinburgh.
The result won’t have an impact on tomorrow night’s game when the Panthers roll into town for what Christiansen has already described as ‘the biggest game of the season.’
Walton was part of the Giants team that last won the league in 2006 and for him the wait for another has been too long.
“Some might say we haven’t had the rub of the green this season,” said Walton.
“We’ve lost a few players through injury or because they’ve left the team, but we’re still at the top of the league.
“We’ve picked up Paul Deniset and everyone knows he is a top class player.
“He is going to benefit our team, but we’ll all stick together and try to keep this run going and hopefully come out with something at the end of the season.”
For a Belfast-man to be making such an impact with the Giants was highly unlikely when the team first hit the ice in 2000.
Seventeen Canadians and one American were on the first roster that Dave Whistle put together.
A change in the format of the league some nine years ago means that now kids in Northern Ireland have something to aim for and while he’s not as well known as a David Healy or Stephen Ferris, Walton is as much a role model to Giants fans as they are to football and rugby supporters.
“I didn’t realise I’d played that many games until Todd Kelman told me on the day of the game,” said Walton.
“I managed to beat the record, 492 games, that is something that I never expected to achieve when I signed for the Giants.
“I took it game by game, year by year and I’ve managed to break the record.
“I’m nearly at 500 now, so that will be a nice milestone to reach.
“Overtaking players like Shane Johnson and Todd Kelman — guys who made the club — and to break the record is something special.
“When the Giants started myself and the guys who were playing hockey here didn’t think we’d have a chance of playing.
“Fortunately the league changed and we’re able to come and play.
“It’s been great, not just for me, but the kids now have the opportunity to become Giants as well.”