Living a dream: Scott Walford, Mitchell Prowse’s hockey journey from Okanagan to Montreal

Scott Walford had a connection to Montreal before he committed to McGill University — one that caused him to rethink whether the Redbirds men’s hockey team were best for him despite having nearly everything he wanted.

The Montreal Canadiens drafted the Coquitlam, B.C., product in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft but never signed him to an entry-level contract, letting his rights expire. The heartbreak that followed left a sour taste in Walford’s mouth, a stinging memory in his mind and bled into his recruitment process.

A city which bleeds red and blue, with swaths of Canadiens’s jerseys, flags, hats, and fans at every turn, could have been a reminder of what could have been for Walford — a perpetual ‘what if?’ into an NHL career that never transpired.

After conversations with his family, friends and McGill’s hockey team staff, a conversation with Guy Boucher, the current Toronto Maple Leafs assistant coach, resonated with the defenceman.

“One of the things Guy Boucher talked about is how he always made the decision that was tough in his life,” Walford told CBC Sports. “That’s why he thinks he is successful. Because he’s always found adversity and tried his best to push through it.”

McGill Redbirds’s Mitchell Prowse skates vs. UQTR in March in U Sports action. Prowse and Walford played together on McGill’s top defensive unit throughout the 2023-24 OUA season. (Matt Garies/McGill Athletics)

Walford committed to the Redbirds, and after a season cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he would begin his McGill career alongside a familiar friend in the 2021-22 season — Mitchell Prowse, who committed in April 2021.

They were already friends of nine years by the time they became roommates at McGill. The two British Columbia-born boy’s hockey journeys seemed to follow each other at every turn.

With numerous players graduating, Walford and Prowse entered McGill with a group of young players focused on building a new culture.

“I wanted to go somewhere where I felt I could help build something and be a part of something,” Walford said.

A couple of B.C. boys

Walford remembers the first time Prowse hopped on the bus to commute to the Okanagan Hockey Academy.

Fifteen-year-old Walford — who played bantam second-year at Okanagan — watched 14-year-old Prowse, whose season just wrapped with the Kelowna Jr. Rockets U15 squad, walk into the bus with Okanagan hockey adorned on the sides and front.

“He seemed like someone you wanted to be friends with,” Walford said. “He was someone that wasn’t hard to get along with.”

Despite their development staggered by a year due to an age difference, the 2014-15 season saw the duo ride the same bus, an hour each way, from Kelowna to Penticton, B.C.

The boys would play phone games to kill time on their commutes — Clash of Clans, Clash Royale, and other player-versus-player games amid the constant chatter from a bus packed with high schoolers.

Three men's hockey players stand with bronze medals around their necks after a hockey game.
McGill Redbirds players Walford, left, Caiden Daley, middle, and Prowse pose for a photo after winning the U Sports Cup bronze-medal game in March. (Matt Garies/McGill Athletics)

The Victoria Royals drafted Walford in the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft. In 2015, they selected Prowse.

Prowse arrived in Victoria full-time before the 16-17 season, a year after Walford, and quickly reunited with his Okanagan colleague. During his first year, Prowse rode shotgun with Walford to and from practice, games, and high school.

The two grew close, training, hanging out and occasionally playing together over their three years in Victoria.

The Royals trade both players at the tail end of their WHL playing careers — Walford was sent to Saskatoon, Sask., in 2019, and Prowse to Lethbridge, Alta., in 2020 — marking the end of their time together until their McGill reunion.

Bittersweet ending

McGill entered the 2024 U Sports men’s hockey national championship as the sixth seed after a promising 2023-24 campaign. The squad swiftly upset the three-seeded UBC Thunderbirds in their opening game.

However, their gold medal ambitions fell to the wayside after losing 5-4 against the UQTR Patriotes in the semi-finals.

Before the bronze medal game against the Toronto Metropolitan University Bold, the two roommates knew they were potentially entering their last competitive contest together.

“You just tell each other how much you love each other,” Walford said. “Sometimes, as hockey players and people in general, we don’t verbalize a lot. In the few words we do say, there is a lot more meaning, and we’re both able to pick up on that.”

Walford assisted on the game-tying goal with 5:56 remaining in the third. Stuck in a 2-2 deadlock with minutes remaining, the pair found each other.

Prowse fed Walford the puck, who sailed a cross-crease pass to Brandon Frattaroli. Frattaroli stunned the Bold home crowd, scoring with 1:21 remaining to clinch bronze for the Redbirds.

In storybook fashion, Prowse and Walford assisted on the winning goal in potentially their final competitive hockey game together.

“We got some pictures on the ice together [after] with a couple of guys who are also moving on,” Walford said. “It’s going to be nice to have those forever.”

After the national championship, Walford signed an amateur tryout contract with the Syracuse Crunch, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s AHL affiliate. He got the call that the Crunch was signing him, and the following day, Walford was gone.

“It’s unfortunate losing your best friend, your roommate, that quick,” Prowse said. “We still keep in touch every day, we still talk, and I watch his games.

“He’s living his dream now.”

The two understand their bronze medal game is likely their “last one” together as Walford begins his professional career and Prowse returns to the Redbirds for another season. While they are uncertain when their on-ice paths will cross, Walford is certain they will lace their skates up together once more.

“Whether it’s pro, an alumni game or beer league, Mitch and I will play together again,” Walford said.

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