Imagine for a minute that you’re living in the middle of a global pandemic that has crippled and shut down life as we knew it on our planet. Pretty easy to do right? The odds that you, the person reading this, just lived through that/are still living through that is fairly high I’d say. Now imagine the same scenario, but you aren’t living in the country that you grew up in for the first 29 years of your life. In a nutshell, that’s what happened to Hayley Williams.
“It was a long time. Almost two years and because of the virus I was stuck in Russia. Pretty crazy! I’m a grown person now after these past few years,” Williams proudly said of the past two years and finally getting to see her family again. “Leaving the US and doing this all on my own – I wouldn’t change any of it. It’s kind of a lonely life, I’m alone a lot of times but I’m never lonely. I’m doing everything I want to do, and I was happy that I was able to finally come home the day before Easter, and that I have been able to spend the past few months with them after being away for so long.”
Williams played a season in the NWHL (Buffalo Beauts), and then two seasons in the CWHL (Toronto Furies) before taking her talents overseas to play in Russia and then Hungary.
We caught up with Williams in Newark, New Jersey after the third and final NWHL Free Agent Camp that she attended in a span of nine days as she attempts to put herself back on the radar of the coaching staffs in the United States. Williams told us her unique plans for the upcoming hockey season, why the 31-year-old hasn’t even come close to reaching her peak as a hockey player, and more.
The Hockey Writers: What have the three teams you tried out for told you about your chances with one of them?
Hayley Williams: I’ve had good conversations with Buffalo and the Riveters so far, and I haven’t really talked to Connecticut yet. Basically, I have some decisions to make.
Where’ve You Been?
THW: A lot has happened since the last time we saw Hayley Williams in an NWHL uniform. For those that don’t know, what have you been up to the last five years?
HW: After I played the first season (2015-16) with the Beauts I ended up playing two years in the CWHL (with the Toronto Furies). When that league folded I went and played in Russia for two years, which was an amazing experience. People would think maybe it’s a little bit scary and stuff like that, but it wasn’t. There are a lot of stereotypes throughout the media and politics that make that happen, but all in all, it was a great experience.
Then the virus hit and my team in Russia folded, and at the last minute I ended up in Budapest, which is where I played this past season. Since then I’ve been asked to play for the Hungarian National Team and I am just at the end of a citizenship process in Hungary. So hopefully they will take me on for the upcoming World Championships as well as the Olympic qualifier in November.
THW: So if that happens it would potentially affect a commitment or signing with one of the NWHL teams, right?
HW: It’s a good problem to have (if they want to sign me). This is sort of a conflicting season for me because I do have some options – and I’ve been very open with the coaches here in the US and told them about my Hungarian process, and that is dear to me right now. I haven’t committed to anything, and I do have some decisions to make. But you’re right, it kind of does put a damper on my return to the US for this season.
THW: What can you tell us about your business?
HW: I’m in my second year now of running Hockey Worldwide Academy, which is my hockey development business. When the virus hit, I was supposed to have two camps that year – one in Buffalo and one in Toronto. I had to cancel both of those but then I started doing online training on Zoom. Helping train kids with strength and conditioning as well as stickhandling.
That’s been the main focus and main program right now, while I’m still traveling. It’s really convenient for me as well as the players I train because we can still train together and I can still make income off of this business while I’m traveling the world.
THW: Training on Zoom is a bit different than in person though, right?
HW: Oh yeah. Night and day. But we do what we can, you know? Have to find a way through adversity.
For Love of the Game
THW: Don’t take this the wrong way, but why do you keep trying to continue to play professionally? It’s admirable, remarkable even, but not too many other players haven’t continued on the path that you’ve been on chasing that dream.
HW: I’ve had a lot of negative things happen. I played D-I hockey and that ended quickly for me. Ever since then I kind of had a chip on my shoulder and wanted to prove some people wrong. I scratched and clawed my way to where I am, and now it’s kind of like – I’m still on the rise. I haven’t peaked yet, even if age-wise I’m 31-years-old. People might think this lady needs to stop playing by now and have a baby. But everything has come together for me now and I make plenty of money through hockey. I coach and I play hockey, and that’s my life. I don’t need to go get another job, I love hockey. So it’s not really like I’m trying to achieve that dream, I’m living the dream; I can’t say that I would want to live my life any differently.
THW: No one’s calling you granny out there are they? I know the chirps can get brutal sometimes!
HW: Oh yeah (laughs) I call myself grandma. I’ll be the first one to call me that. But then I get on the ice and they’re like – okay, you got skill. You can be here.
THW: Seeing you the past two weekends at three different camps, you looked very confident all over the ice. Did you feel that way?
HW: Absolutely. I’m kind of tied to Hungary now and I’m 90% sure I’ll go back there and play my club season in Budapest, but I definitely want to stay visible in the US because I’m not done. I still have so much more to go and like I said, I’m not at my peak now so I’m going to play until I can’t. Even if, biologically, I’m a woman who should be thinking about a family soon. That’s everybody’s first question to me, and yeah you think that I should live my life a certain way – but it’s not your life, it’s mine.
THW: So where do you go from here after today’s final NWHL tryout?
HW: I’m heading back to Chicago to visit my family for a few days and then on June 18 I’ll fly to Budapest because the camp for the National Team starts on the 21st and runs through the 26th. After that, I’ll fly back to Chicago, and then heading to Vegas for July 4, and I’ll be coaching there. Everything I do is related to hockey, but I’m also traveling and doing everything I want to do. After all that the next step would be heading back over for centralization before the World Championships hopefully – because we’re still competing for a spot.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.