Editor's Note: This article was written and used for the Dartmouth-Harvard Game Program this past Saturday at Thompson Arena.
Few players can lay claim to being both his team's most talented player as well its most overlooked.
Dustin Walsh can.
But how can you be arguably the best player on a team and still be one passed by on first glance through a roster or stat sheet?
For Walsh, it's been a barrage of injuries that have limited the senior winger to just 77 career games entering this weekend. Twice his hip has needed to be surgically repaired to get him back onto the ice playing again, most recently last spring.
The latest surgery cut short Walsh's junior year, one in which he had 10 points in eight games played and was well on his way to making a real name for himself outside of Hanover.
"It has been very difficult missing so much time due to injury, especially since the time of my injury last year came when I thought I was playing the best hockey of my life," the Shannonville, Ontario, native said.
"So coming back and still not feeling as good as I have in the past has made it difficult to get back the confidence I had last year. But every weekend my hip feels better and better and with that comes a little more confidence in my game."
Walsh was around the team after having the surgery, but his presence in the locker room further cast light on the hole in the team's lineup on the ice each Friday and Saturday night from January on.
A Montreal Canadiens prospect after being selected in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Walsh came to Dartmouth with hefty expectations. Those expectations have continued as one college hockey media outlet tabbed him as this season's ECAC Hockey Preseason Player of the Year.
However, he had a familiar face to help him adjust to the college game and media attention once he got here.
Older brother Nick Walsh '12 had already been in Hanover for a year when the recruiting of Dustin started. Offers to go play elsewhere were not as appetizing as suiting up alongside his brother in a Big Green sweater for three years.
"The recruiting process for me was a pretty easy decision to come here. My brother was already playing here and told me he loved it. Coach Peters offered for me to come in as an 18-year old, which was something I knew I wanted to do and not go back for an extra year of junior."
Now the lone Walsh brother as Nick has graduated and gone on to the pro hockey ranks, Dustin is left to make a solo mark on Dartmouth's program.
"At first it was really weird coming back to school without Nick and not having him around, but I was also pretty close with that entire class and losing such a big group of close friends was definitely strange for the first few weeks of school."
Gone are the 10 from the class of 2012 that were on last year's team, leaving just five seniors to lead ECAC Hockey's youngest team made up of 18 underclassmen. Walsh is a vital part of that leadership group, wearing the 'A' as one of the team's alternate captains.
"Being named one of the assistant captains was an honor for me, but I don't feel as though my role has changed much," the reserved and soft-spoken Walsh said. "I have never been a big talker in the dressing room or on the bench. I've always considered myself a 'lead-by-example' guy and I just try to work hard every day to get better and stronger and stay positive when things aren't going our way. I leave the speeches and stuff like that to the guys that are more comfortable in that role."
A beloved teammate, Walsh has had the opportunity to learn from the top coaches in the world, attending Canadiens prospect development camps during the summers. There, he has shaped his NHL-style work ethic that has made him more than just a talented player, but one driven to constantly look for ways to improve his game.
"Canadiens development camps are always a good experience every summer. They have a skating coach there that I work a lot with to keep improving my speed and acceleration, my two main areas of focus. They want me to keep improving on my skating and continue to get stronger, which is what I really work on when I'm here in Hanover."
With Dartmouth in the midst of what could be one of its best seasons in program history, Walsh knows that the team's current hiccup will pass and better things are ahead for 2013.
"We have a really strong team this year and I also think our guys know we are better than what we've been in the last three games. I just think we need to relax a little and get back to playing the game that got us this far. Some guys need to calm down a bit and stop gripping the stick so tight and we can get back to scoring the way we were before the break."
He doesn't talk often. He sits at the back of the
bus and watches movies on his laptop during road trips. He's not the player you
hear cracking jokes at the dinner table either. But when he does talk, people
by Pat Salvas