Hurricanes’ Williams Doing What Captains Do

The Carolina Hurricanes are surging towards a spot in the NHL playoffs. They played what felt like a playoff game Tuesday night at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins, an intense hard-fought battle.

The Hurricanes and Penguins, each refused to bend, like boxers trading blows. When the Pens took the lead and seemed destined to emerge the victor, Justin Williams once again found the back of the net. He is doing what captains do, rising to the occasion with his leadership, and it is helping his team stay relevant in the playoff chase.

Justin Williams Hurricanes
Justin Williams, Carolina Hurricanes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Williams a Natural “C”

Williams has had a storied career. Everyone remembers his Game 7 heroics in 2006, sealing his team’s Stanley Cup victory. Being heroic has characterized Williams’ career, and he has earned the nickname, “Mr. Game 7″ for good reason.

Prior to the Washington Capitals’ Eastern Conference Final Game 7 versus the Penguins in 2017, Tom Gulitti wrote at that Captials head coach, Barry Trotz summed up Williams’ playoff abilities by saying:

I don’t have any doubts what Justin is going to bring. He’s going to bring his all, and his all is pretty good.

In the same story, Gulitti quoted Williams’ teammate Brooks Orpik about why Williams has been successful in game sevens:

I think he has the same approach every game. He’s a real competitive guy, so when you’re that competitive and you’re that prepared, I think stuff works its way out and goes your way over time.

Williams has won the Cup three times. Once with the Hurricanes in 2006 and twice with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014. In 2014, he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP.

Doing What Captains Do

Williams’ experience combined with his competitive spirit is exactly why he is the captain of the Hurricanes. Even though the team’s former head coach Bill Peters did not see the value in naming Williams captain, Rod Brind’Amour wasted no time in putting the “C” where it belongs at the start of this season – stitched boldly on the sweater of number 14.

The value of experience and a will to win was evident in Tuesday night’s game against the Penguins. When the battle seemed lost late in the third period, the captain did what captains do at 1:56 in the game:

Sure, lots of players score goals at significant times but the captain of this team is doing his best to leave everything on the ice and inspire his teammates to do the same. With 10 regular season games left, Williams is making sure that if the team does not make the playoffs, it won’t be for lack of effort.

After the Penguins game, I asked Williams about making key plays in clutch situations and if it is a conscious effort on his part or does it just come naturally? Williams answered: I mean, I’m given an opportunity to be out there by the coach. So when you’re out there obviously you want to be the guy. Everyone on that ice wants to be the guy. Fortunately for us, everyone on the bench wants to be the guy, too. That’s important.”

Everyone may want to be the guy, but it takes a special makeup to actually be the guy and to become “Mr. Game 7”. Williams has earned that gloss and is still making big plays in clutch situations. He’s the captain because he is doing what captains do and has been doing so his entire career.

When the Hurricanes make the playoffs sometime in the next week or so, it will be due to a combination of factors: scoring, goaltending, defense and “the guy” being “the guy” just doing what captains do, leading by example and helping his team win.