There were times this summer when Tri-City Storm forward Walker Duehr felt like he was in a funk; he knew it was time for the start of another USHL season, but at Duehr’s home in Sioux Falls, SD, the second-year forward had to wait to get back on the ice because of knee surgery in July.
“I was frustrated,” said Duehr, speaking about the surgery and the five-month recovery process. “I’ve never experienced anything like that.”
Six months after the surgery that left the 6-foot-2, 190-lb winger unable to walk for two months, he wore a big smile at the Viaero Center just before the Storm hit the ice for practice. Duehr announced his commitment to play for Minnesota State Mankato in the Western Collegiate Athletic Conference, just one week after being named to NHL Central Scouting’s Midterm Rankings.
“It feels great to know the next step in my hockey career,” said Duehr. “It’s nice to know I’ll have a home for four years.”
The process to get to the “next step” was not simple after Duehr completed last season with the Sioux City Musketeers. First, there was a trade; The Storm acquired Duehr on May 6, 2015 from the Musketeers, making him the first Las Vegas Storm alum to join the Tri-City roster since Joey DiBenedetto in 2013-14.
Duehr’s health was also in question. He said he knew during the late stages of last season that something would have to be done about his knee, which had bothered him throughout the season. Just more than two months after the trade, Duehr had the surgery. Screws from the surgery were removed from his leg in October, two months into the season.
Finally, there was the return to skating; Duehr said he skated about ten times coming off Injured Reserve and making his season debut with the Storm on Dec. 11 against Bloomington. He scored in his first game back and also added an assist. In 16 games this season, the winger has six goals and 12 points, including two different four-game point streaks. His production in the first month back from surgery bested his seven points in 49 games with the Musketeers last season.
“I learned last year to never get complacent,” explained Duehr. “I talk to the young guys about always trying to be as consistent as possible.”
“He’s been through a lot and battled hard to get back,” said head coach and general manager of the Storm, Bill Muckalt. “Walker has made a real impact on our team. We’re looking forward to continue working with him to get ready for college hockey. He has a bright future.”
NHL Central Scouting noticed the quick rise in production out of the 18-year old and named him to their rankings for the first time all season. Out of 210 ranked North American Skaters, Duehr is classified as “limited viewing”, reserved for “injured players who have not had sufficient viewings to be categorized”. Storm teammate Wade Allison ranks #192 among North American skaters. The two have been major contributors to the Storm rising to second in the Western Conference, something that Duehr wasn’t sure would even be possible six months ago.
“It’s been great to come back and help the team have some success,” said Duehr. “We are looking forward to trying to keep it up.”
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 14th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2015-16. A record 37 players were chosen in the 2015 NHL Draft and more than 375 players on team rosters last season committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent.
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