Cody Walsh was quick to brush off his two-goal performance in last Sunday's win.
"Blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and then," he joked.
Offense isn't exactly Walsh's game as the Quad City Storm defenseman has just 12 goals and 36 assists over 176 games spanning his five-year career. But the two goals scored in the win over the Knoxville Ice Bears were a nice reward for Walsh after working to improve on a subpar start to the season.
"A lot of the guys are hard-working guys so it's really rubbed off on me," Walsh said. "I think the rewards are already starting to come. Our team is a very hard-working team, and it's starting to pay off and we're starting to see it pay off."
Walsh is in his fourth year as a professional, but it hasn't always been a smooth career for the Rolling Meadows, Illinois, native. After playing a full season with Roanoke as a rookie, Walsh started the 2017-18 season with Fayetteville before being traded to the Mississippi RiverKings midseason.
His time with Mississippi came to an abrupt end when he was released right before the end of the season. Instead of finding another team, Walsh decided to retire.
"My head wasn't in it," said Walsh, 28. "I just had a sour taste in my mouth, just about the game. Nobody likes being cut; it's just how you come back from it."
He was working at Howies Hockey Tape last year, packing boxes, when he got a phone call from Don Olivieri, who started last season as the Storm's captain.
"He gave me a call saying, 'We need a defenseman and I know you still want to play,'" Walsh said. "I wasn't super surprised, but I was fortunate enough to have the call and (head coach Dave Pszenyczny) having the trust in me and believing I can still play the game.
"It was like a call from God, saying you need to do this and follow your dreams still. I truly believe it was a calling, saying, hey, you're not done."
Walsh signed with the Storm in November and enjoyed a career year, scoring three goals and adding 14 assists for a career-high 17 points. He re-signed with the team in July.
With some more pieces this year, Walsh didn't need to be as big an offensive player, and he struggled to start the year. Offensively he had one point — a goal — and a minus-4 rating in his first 12 games. In that span just twice did Walsh post a game with a plus rating.
"The first half of the season, I was really trying to work on my game defensively, and that was a big change compared to last year, I felt like, just with my role with the team," Walsh said. "I was really trying to focus in and hone in on my skills defensively first before I started worrying about the other side of the game.
"I knew I wasn't playing to the standard that I could. ... You're almost in your own head, just trying to talk yourself out of stuff, and it came to point where I said, you know what, who cares about the mental part of it? Just play hockey and love the game and appreciate and enjoy the process."
Pszenyczny said he noticed a change in Walsh's play in November, and since early December it's been noticeable on the stat sheet. In the last 16 games, Walsh has two goals, an assist and is plus-1. In that span, he has had six games with a plus rating.
"It's not just him, I think a lot of guys had high expectations coming in from last year. Sometimes, with injuries and playing time, it affects stuff and then, the first part of the season, you're trying to gel by the time you get to December," Pszenyczny said. "Walshy, it's no secret he was struggling there for a little bit, but he realized it and he just put in a little more work. That's all it is at the end of the day."
Since Walsh's play has picked up, the Storm have also started winning games. In that 16-game span, the Storm are 7-6-3 as compared to 1-8-3 in the first 12 games when Walsh was in the lineup.
Correlation or not, this recent stretch has been much more enjoyable, heading into this weekend's games at the TaxSlayer Center against Peoria.
"To be honest, I'm just a pawn," Walsh said. "I do what I'm told and I just enjoy the process and have fun with it. I think that's the biggest part of the game itself is just having fun. I believe I'm having a lot more fun than I was at the beginning of the year when we were losing and bounces weren't going our way and it gets frustrating.
"Now we're playing a good brand of hockey and it's fun."
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