From Tiger to Pan­ther

Hat­ter and for­mer Tigers cap­tain Cur­tis Valk called up to the NHL’s Florida Pan­thers

Medicine Hat News - - FRONT PAGE - RYAN MCCRACKEN rm­c­cracken@medicine­hat­ Twit­ter: MHNMcCracken

Cur­tis Valk’s life­long dream just be­came a re­al­ity.

The Gas City prod­uct and for­mer Medicine Hat Tigers cap­tain was called up to the NHL’s Florida Pan­thers on Sun­day evening, giv­ing him his first op­por­tu­nity to shine in the big show.

“It’s a pretty cool ex­pe­ri­ence for me. As a kid grow­ing up it’s what you dream of do­ing, play­ing in the NHL,” said Valk, from the Pan­thers’ prac­tice fa­cil­ity in Coral Springs. “When they called me into that coaches of­fice the other night it felt pretty good to hear that I was go­ing up and that I have an op­por­tu­nity to play in an NHL game.”

Valk has been on a tear since start­ing the sea­son with the Amer­i­can Hockey League’s Spring­field Thun­der­birds. Through his first 16 games, the 5-foot-9, 170-pound cen­tre has com­piled six goals and nine as­sists to sit tied for eighth in league scor­ing and earn a look from his big league af­fil­i­ate. But Valk stressed the fact that his Thun­der­birds have been strug­gling in the early por­tion of the sea­son, and in­di­vid­ual suc­cess al­ways takes the back seat.

“I don’t know if I’ve changed a whole lot but the coach in Spring­field has been giv­ing me a lot of op­por­tu­nity. I’m play­ing a lot of min­utes and I think that’s re­ally helped with the con­fi­dence,” he said. “It’s al­lowed me to get off to a good start so far this sea­son, but I’m kind of look­ing for­ward to get­ting some more wins with (Spring­field). They’ve been strug­gling. It’s nice to have per­sonal suc­cess but it would be bet­ter if the team was win­ning.”

Tigers head coach and gen­eral man­ager Shaun Clous­ton says if it’s true that you get what you put into some­thing, then Valk is fi­nally cash­ing out.

“We used his story today, he was an in-and-out guy for the ma­jor­ity of his 17-year-old year. He was in and out of the lineup, a healthy scratch then played some games. It’s taken him seven years — he was an un­der­sized guy who wasn’t overly fast, and quite un­der­sized when he was younger, he was not big. He just willed him­self, he just worked his way into this sit­u­a­tion,” said Clous­ton. “He’s such an in­spir­ing story for so many young play­ers and we’re just re­ally proud of him. He should be so proud of him­self.”

Valk played four full sea­sons with the Tigers, log­ging more than 90 points in each of his fi­nal two years with the team for a to­tal of 255 points in the span of his WHL ca­reer. Valk’s long road to the NHL con­tin­ued past ma­jor ju­nior when he earned a place in the Van­cou­ver Canucks sys­tem. While he never made it into a game with Van­cou­ver, he signed a con­tract with the AHL’s Utica Comets and spent the next three sea­sons with them and the ECHL’s Kala­ma­zoo Wings. Valk en­tered this sum­mer as a free agent, but was signed to a one-year en­try level deal by the Pan­thers on July 1.

In­juries to cen­tres Jared McCann and Derek MacKen­zie opened up a spot for Valk on the Pan­thers. The 24year-old Hat­ter is ex­pected to start on the fourth line for Florida in tonight’s home game against the Dal­las Stars. Valk heard the news fol­low­ing his three-point per­for­mance in Spring­field’s 4-3 win over the Providence Bru­ins on Sun­day night.

“I’m just go­ing to try and keep it sim­ple out there,” said Valk. “I want to help the team any way I can.”

Clous­ton — who was be­hind the bench for the en­tirety of Valk’s 270game WHL ca­reer — added the achieve­ment is a tes­ta­ment to Valk’s hard-nosed ap­proach to train­ing and de­vel­op­ment, and he hopes his story will light a fire un­der the Tigers who hope to fol­low in his foot­steps.

“I think it’s in­spir­ing and it il­lus­trates what’s pos­si­ble if you’re will­ing to do it. There are no sim­ple so­lu­tions, there are no short­cuts. Cur­tis just did way more and worked way harder than the vast ma­jor­ity of hockey play­ers, that’s why he’s there.”


For­mer Medicine Hat Tigers cap­tain Cur­tis Valk trains at The Arena dur­ing the 2014 off­sea­son. The 24-yearold Gas City prod­uct was called up to the Florida Pan­thers Sun­day night.

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