Dignity After Hockey was created to assist former professional hockey players who have fallen on hard times. It has been a long-standing tradition in hockey to protect a teammate when he needs help. Unfortunately, many retired players, long since departed from the game, still require help with financial and medical problems.Kurt Walker is the founder of Dignity After Hockey. Kurt played in the National Hockey League for the Toronto Maple Leafs and is determined to unite the hockey and business communities in an effort to aid those in need.
Kurt Walker played seven seasons of professional hockey, as an enforcer, he fought in many different cities. Since retiring, he’s still fighting, except this time, it’s to help his former opponents.
During a game, while Walker was playing in the New England Junior Hockey League, he stepped in to defend his teammates who were being pushed around by an opponent. Walker drop the gloves and won in a tilt where he says, the other guy had a few inches on him.
“There was a scout in the stands, and after the game, he asked me if I wanted to go to Sherbrooke to play for a team that was in need of a tough guy. Back then I didn’t really know what a tough guy was. That was my first ever fight.”
Walker says he got into many fights in Sherbrooke, “I think I won most of them, maybe even all of them.” He played thirty-six games there, totaling one hundred forty-two penalty minutes (according to hockeydb.com).
“I was told if I did my job (fight) I would have the opportunity to go to Saginaw of the IHL and have a tryout”.
Don Perry was the coach of the Saginaw Blades at the time, a coach who was infamous for getting his guys to fight. Walker played there for a season amassing one hundred sixty-eight PIMS in sixty-seven games.
“I was scouted by Gerry McNamara of the Toronto Maple Leafs, he saw a few of those games where I ‘acted up’ (fought) and invited me to training camp. I wanted to play for them my whole life, that’s who I told people I was going to play for when I was fourteen” Walker said chuckling.
Walker signed his first NHL contract after training camp, a three-year deal with the Leafs.
“My dream was to play twelve to fifteen minutes a night, but I found most of my time I was sitting on the bench getting one or two shifts. But through all of that, I never forgot what got me there” Walker said.
After signing, Walker played in Oklahoma City, to play for the Leafs top affiliate. During the 1975 season, the NHL was run by the likes of the Broad Street Bullies of Philadelphia and the Big Bad Bruins of Boston, and Toronto didn’t want to be pushed around anymore. Walker was called up for a pair of weekend games, one at home against Washington, the other in Philadelphia.
“A couple of guys on the Leafs got what we called the Philadelphia Flu, all of the sudden their back hurt or they weren’t feeling well. They didn’t want to go to Philadelphia.”
Walker played one shift in his NHL debut and hit the post. A missed chance he kicked himself for, until after the game when Toronto General Manager Jim Gregory came down to the dressing room after the game.
“The GM came down and said, ‘that was a great shift’ and I said ‘yeah but I hit the post’ and he replied ‘yeah I saw that I’m glad you didn’t score, because then you would have thought you were a goal scorer instead of what we brought you up here for'” Walker explained.
Over three seasons with the Maple Leafs, Walker played seventy-one games, collecting one hundred fifty-two penalty minutes. He was then traded to Los Angeles fresh off signing his second three-year contract. Walker ended his career with five seasons in the American Hockey League retiring in 1980.
In 2011 he created a facebook page ‘Dignity after Hockey’ to raise awareness for the lack of affordable health care available to former NHLers with the money the received from their pensions.
The page grew exponentially, within three years, he was messaged by the Society for Professional Athletes, a man named Ben Galliway told him that he would try to get affordable health care available to past hockey players, but it would take some time.
“I have tons of time Ben,” Walker told him. It took three years before Galliway called him and said he had created a site where athletes could navigate through and choose health care.
One of Walker’s friends Steve Ludzik attended an event for Mike Ditka and the Gridiron Greats fund for NFL players. There he was connected with Kandace Stolz of the Premier Regenerative Stem Cell Institute.
They (Galliway and Stolz) gave us the tools to be something, to be able to offer services to former players. Without them, we aren’t who we are today” Walker said.
Through a partnership that started in in July of 2016, Dignity after Hockey has sent ten former players to this stem cell institute in Denver, Colorado for treatment. Ten players in ten months all through donations, Walker has not had to fundraise a cent.
“Through the SFPA, we created a new healthcare, which for what I know is the first affordable health care since the inception of the NHL” Walker said. The new health care option he describes kicked in three years ago, ninety-seven years after the creation of the NHL.
Find out more at Kurt’s web page….. http://dignityafterhockey.ca/