Justin Williams, newly acquired by the Carolina Hurricanes from the Washington Capitals, met with the media Monday to talk about his return to the team with which he won the Stanley Cup in 2006. After two more Stanley Cup championships with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014, as well as the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2014, Williams brings veteran leadership and a winning resume to the Hurricanes.
As the media gathered in the team’s locker room, Williams said:
Some cosmetic things change, but the memories will always last forever in here, for sure. I have a lot of good ones.
Hurricanes fans have good memories of Williams, for sure, scoring the empty net goal in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Edmonton Oilers to seal the 3-1 victory. Of course, Cam Ward was also on that team, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as a rookie for his performance in those playoffs. But, bringing Williams back seems to have infused the fans with fresh optimism about returning to the playoffs.
Williams has Carolina on His Mind
When asked what was the main factor that helped make returning to the ‘Canes an easy decision, Williams said:
There were a lot of them. First and foremost, this is a team that is on the rise, a team I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people with this year. You always want to be a part of that. I think my role is an important one, and I’m going to work hard to make sure it’s a good one.
Williams’ role will be an important one this year, one that will center around his play on the ice and his influence on players off the ice, providing leadership, encouragement and advice.
No Easy Games in This League
Williams was asked how he felt about playing against teams in the same division he was in with the Capitals. He said:
I don’t think divisions really mean too much anymore, except maybe for playoff seeding. But, other than that, you’re playing everybody. I suppose if you have a home and home against somebody it might get a little more intense, but there’s no easy games in this league. Everyone is equally capable of beating everyone.
Williams did point out that as far as staying within the division next year goes, “I really want to kick their butts, for sure.”
Hurricanes fans would be more than happy to see Williams kicking some butt next year. He can be brutally honest, without being rude or running a lot of smack talk, but rather telling it like it is, often echoing the sentiments of the fans. What is intriguing about Williams is that he is saying things that inspire. Hopefully, that inspiration will translate into more fans at Raleigh’s PNC Arena supporting the ‘Canes.
While in no way ensuring the ‘Canes would win the Stanley Cup this season, Williams said that the margin for error is extremely thin in the NHL, and that leaves things open for just about every team. “You can get on a roll and start to feel good and anything’s possible,” Williams said. “It’s an exciting time I think for this city and for this team, and especially for me personally.”
"This is a big time for this team, this city and me personally." #Redvolution
— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) July 17, 2017
Can't wait👌🤜🥅 https://t.co/11VWATGgGH
— Justin Williams (@JustinWilliams) July 18, 2017
Don’t Go There
On two issues Williams had nothing to say. When asked if he knew anything about last week’s rumors surrounding the sale of the Hurricanes, he said: “I’m not privy to any information, all I know is where I’m going to be playing next year and that’s here.”
When asked if he would like to wear the “C” on his Hurricanes sweater, he would not go there even a little bit. “That’s something I don’t really want to talk about at all. Like I said, I’m coming here to be me and I really don’t want to talk about that.”
Throughout the interview, I got the feeling that Williams is genuine, even humble. If he can “be himself”, his contribution to the team will be immense.
Changing the Culture
I asked Williams if he felt the load was on him to change the culture in Carolina to one of winning, given his experience with the Capitals, a team that has grown accustomed to winning for the past several years. He said:
No, I don’t think the load is on me to do anything. I’m in here to be me. I think Mr. Francis [Executive VP/General Manager, Ron Francis] and his group have done an excellent job of gathering this team. A lot of these teammates weren’t here six or seven years ago.
They’re fresh, too, and they’ve had a lot of success at different levels, as well, whether it be world championships or what have you. You just want to help guide the best you can. You know what it takes, you know what works and what doesn’t.
Williams knows deep down that given his age and winning experience, he will be looked to for leadership, it’s just natural. But, he seems committed to being himself and enjoying the opportunity to help the Hurricanes.
I also asked him about having played with stars like Alexander Ovechkin versus playing now with young players who may someday be stars but are just starting out. Williams said:
I think that everybody’s good. If you look at training camp or what have you, you might not even be able to tell the difference between an NHL player and an AHL player. But, once you get into games, that’s when the mental part of it takes over. Can you do it under pressure? Can you make the play when someone is about to hit you? Those are the things that separate the good from the bad, and the bad and the average. You want to help people as much as you can, and obviously, I want to stay on top of my game, as well.
Williams is a boost of positive energy into the Hurricanes roster. If they do make strides toward getting into the playoffs this season, it will likely be in large part to the influence of the former ‘Cane who has returned.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.