He successfully defended the Mustangs net in the Alaska State High School Hockey championship game in Wasilla on Feb. 11 giving Chugiak High School not only its first championship in 17 years, but also a shut-out against the South High School Wolverines, a team that previously was the top seed from the Cook Inlet Conference from which both teams hail.
The score was 3-0. The crowd chanted his name regularly as he deflected skillfully targeted pucks.
But Jack Walters, the CHS goalie wearing #35, would rather talk about the accomplishments his teammates brought on the ice that magical night for the Mustangs at the Curtis D. Menard Memorial Sports Center.
“John Hammer and Andy Beckett and Zach Krajnik – those guys are always dominating. Day in and day out,” Walters told the ECHO News. “Guys like Zach Pluckinski who come to the rink every day to improve themselves. Those guys and their effort at scoring are what helps me as a goalie.”
He’s noticeably humble and almost an “ah shucks” kind of guy when asked about his selection to the CIC All-Conference team and to the state tournament team. He hesitates long enough for a listener to know he’s only answering out of politeness when he’s asked about his stats as a goalie.
There’s plenty to brag about when it comes to Jack Walters as a goalie.
In the just finished state tournament, Walters stopped 45 of 46 shots between the semi-final win over the Colony Knights 5-1 and in the title game victory against South, giving him a .978 save percentage. In his five high school career games at the state tournament, Walters stopped 122 of 128 shots for a .953 save percentage.
According to the CIC Hockey website with player statistics, Walters played seven games this season with 285 minutes guarding the net. He had two shut-outs and 126 saves for goals against average (GAA) of 1.42 – the lowest for CIC goalies in the 2016-17 season.
And then there is his work ethic. One of the best Rodney Wild, CHS head coach, said he’s seen.
“No one works harder at the game than Jack does,” Wild told the ECHO News.
Wild sees Walters’ current abilities matching up to former CHS greats – Peter Bartline, a 2000 graduate who as Wild describes, “backstopped us to the state championship,” that year and went on to play Division 1 at Holy Cross and Bryce Christianson, a 2004 Mustangs graduate that played Division 1 at UAA.
“Jack is similar to both in his athletic ability and his willingness to do what it takes to get him to the next level,” Wild said.
That’s good news to Walters who isn’t shy about his desire to play Divison 1 college hockey, but also knows he has a tough skate ahead of him to make that happen.
“It is a hard league to break into because so many good players come from all over the world,” Walters said. “Guys come from the U.S., of course, and Canada and Europe. The best of the best from everywhere. That is a lot of competition.”
He has the academic marks to make the college cut: Walters grade point average is a 3.78.
He knows he’ll have a stint in junior hockey first. He hopes that perhaps a team in British Columbia will take interest in him. He played with his comp team – the Alaska Oilers – over the Christmas holiday where many scouts for the junior league were on hand. Walters is a junior in high school this year and while some high school juniors do get offers to play in the same namesake league, he expects his senior high school year will be when he makes the tough decisions about continuing in the sport he loves.
Like many local high school students, Walters grew up playing in the various age-designated leagues of the Mustang Hockey Association based at the Harry J. McDonald Memorial Center.
It’s a spot near and dear to his heart.
“I grew up there,” Walter said.
So it wasn’t a big surprise when Walters’ Eagle Scout project completed last year was done at the “Mac” as folks in the local area reference the ice arena named for its most ardent supporter, Harry McDonald, who sought for years to bring a hockey-sized sheet of ice to the Eagle River area.
Walters constructed and replaced a trophy case unintentionally destroyed in recent construction and upgrades.
“I wanted to give back to a place that has done so much for me,” he said.
That desire isn’t limited to a secure spot for trophies. Walters spends a fair amount of his “free” time there coaching younger players coming up in the MHA.
His celebration of the state championship was long over by Sun., Feb. 12, when he headed to the “Mac” to coach upcoming goalies.
“Every young goalie should have someone to help them out,” Walters said. “Becoming an effective goalie is not as easy as just watching the people on TV and copying them.”
Instead, Walters is giving what he wishes he had: An older high school goalie to coach him; to teach him in his younger years.
“I really like coaching the younger players because it even helps me with my playing ability,” he said .“I can see what the younger kids are doing and I go back and look at that and think to myself, ‘hey, I need to work on that too.”
Being a goalie most certainly is intense.
Ignoring distraction is key, he said.
That’s something that Wild again credit Walters with doing day in and day out.
One of the reasons Wild believes Walters will go further in his hockey career is, “his ability to focus and avoid distractions – an incredibly important skill for a goaltender.”
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t hear the roaring crowd supporting the CHS Mustangs.
He chuckles a bit when asked if he can hear his name being chanted repetitively when he stops a goal.
“Yah,” he says with a pause before the next words. “I kinda smile a little bit and chuckle when I hear it. Honestly, it has a terrible ring to it – does not have a good flow coming off the tongue. Other chants by our fans flow and sound much better, but I do love it and I appreciate it and the support our fans give us.”
Of course, no story would be complete with a mention of the mom that drove young Jack to the ice rink for years before he became a licensed driver himself.
That would be Janine Walters. She’s easy to find at the games. She is beaming with pride and ready to tell anyone about how hard her son has worked to master being a goalie.
“She’s a great lady,” Jack said of his mother, noting the enormous finance investment his mom and dad, Frank Walters, have made in his hockey career between gas money and continually replacing his goalie stick. “All that driving. She put up with it. She showed me what it meant to stick with it.”
Editor’s Note: Should you get the opportunity to watch Walters in action, be sure to pay attention to what he does before the start of every game period. He doesn’t just go to the front of the net. He first skates around it in a sort of claiming fashion and then does the same to the “crease” or the area outlined in blue in front of the net. He admits it is somewhat like a good luck charm for him. Hey, it’s only weird if it doesn’t work. Apparently, it works for Walters and the Mustangs.