Whalers Alum Justin Williams Plays for Second Stanley Cup
Photos: At top of story - Justin Williams with Los Angeles. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Kings.
Middle of story - Whalers Kris Vernarsky (2nd round, Toronto), Tomas Kurka (2nd round, Carolina), Justin Williams (1st round, Philadelphia) and Libor Ustrnul (2nd round, Atlanta) were all selected in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. Photo courtesy f the St. Clair Group.
PLYMOUTH - There's a definite Plymouth Whalers angle alive when the Los Angeles Kings skate against the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Finals, starting Wednesday in New Jersey.
Whalers alum Justin Williams (1998-00) has become an integral member of the Kings and goes against former Whalers head coach Pete DeBoer (1995-01), now head coach of the Devils.
Compuware Ambassadors alum Andy Greene (2000-02) also plays for the Devils.
After leading the OHL playoffs in scoring in 2000, Williams was selected in the first round (28th overall) by Philadelphia in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. He was supposed to return to the Whalers for the 2000-01 season. But Williams made the Flyers out of their training camp and never looked back.
Wiilliams later went on the Carolina, helping the Hurricanes win the Stanley Cup in 2006. Now he plays for his second Stanley cup with the Kings.
Plymouth Director of Communications Pete Krupsky wrote about Williams in December of 1999 after Williams developed into Plymouth's leading scorer in 1999-00 and was up for the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. Here's the story:
He’s not the biggest player on the ice, or the strongest. But Plymouth right wing Justin Williams may be one of the smartest.
Williams – the Whalers’ leading scorer through 30 games with 13 goals and 15 assists – has a talent for being at the right place in the right time.
In a recent game against Kitchener, the Whalers were trailing 3-2 with less than two minutes to play when Damian Surma dumped the puck into the Kitchener zone. Williams was just coming on in the middle of a line change when Surma’s pass caromed off a defenseman’s skate and bounced to Williams, who buried the puck by Kitchener goaltender Reg Bourcier to tie the game.
“A lot of people are starting to notice him,” said Plymouth associate coach Steve Spott. “You go into the media rooms before the game now and National Hockey League people are asking about him – what is he like off the ice and what is he like in terms of size. He’s turning a lot of heads right now. Hopefully, Justin can keep it going, because he’s a big part of our offense.”
“Williams?” a scout said. “He’s not fast, but he gets to where he has to go in plenty of time. He competes well for his size. He seems to know where the holes are. I like him.”
Williams was among the top 25 Ontario Hockey League players listed in the opening National Hockey League Central Scouting rankings earlier this season. He tries to put the acclaim on the back burner.
“The scouts are always on your mind,” Williams said. “But you have to sit back and play your game and do the little things that make you the hockey player you are. You can’t worry about what other guys think or how they think you play. You just have to do your thing out there and hopefully it’ll pay off.”
Plymouth selected Williams in the sixth round (128th overall) of the 1998 Ontario Hockey League Draft. After scoring four goals with eight assists for 12 points in 47 games as a rookie in 1998-99, he knew it was tine to go work during the off-season.
“I worked very hard during the summer,” Williams said. “We skated (in the morning) from 9-11, then worked out in the gym for another hour-and-a-half to two hours – whatever it takes – and then every week I’d meet with a personal trainer. The work is really paying off now.”
Williams has stayed on a line all season with rookie Stephen Weiss and Captain Randy Fitzgerald.
”That whole line has been pretty good,” Spott said. “You throw Randy Fitzgerald into the mix – a guy that creates a lot of opportunities through his hard work and honest forecheck – and Willie’s a finisher. He’s a guy that can put the puck in the net several ways.”
“We’re the only line that has stayed together the whole year.” Williams said. “I drive the kid (Weiss) home every day. We’re good friends and sometimes it pays off on the ice. You hear him on the ice and you know where he’s going to be most of the time.”
Despite his size, Williams works well in front of the opposition’s net. Williams and Weiss have clicked for several goals with Weiss feeding the pass to Williams on the lip of the crease. The play results in a good scoring chance and many times a goal. Fitzgerald fills the holes well, usually skating in as a late man and working the boards effectively.
Williams credits head coach Pete DeBoer with reinforcing a basic premise in scoring goals.
“Pete’s always telling us to go to the net, get to the net hard and bring the puck to the net.” Williams said. “If you do those things, good things are going to happen. Steve’s just been throwing the puck on net and Randy and I have been banging away and getting the goals.”
After playing as a rookie on a team that was the top club in the Canadian Hockey League last season, Williams is considered a veteran on a team that is learning how to win this year. Plymouth has gone through some adversity this season, but Williams feels the mistakes made now will pay off in the near future.
“It definitely helps you,” Williams explained. “All the little mistakes that have cost us games so far are going to help us, because we’re going to learn from that experience. It’s not going to happen again.”
LONG ROAD FOR DeBOER: Devils' head coach Peter DeBoer really didn't intend to coach. He started his coaching career in 1993 with the Jr. Wings as a favor to friend Paul Maurice.
Scott Burnside of ESPN.com recently told the story, going all the way back to 1985 when DeBoer was drafted by the Windsor Compuware Spitfires:
NEWARK, N.J. -- The fall of 1985.
Peter DeBoer and his parents are talking with Windsor Spitfires GM Jim Rutherford in historic Windsor Arena in downtown Windsor, Ontario, across the river from Detroit.
Rutherford, who took the teenage forward in the 13th round of the junior draft, wanted DeBoer to stay in Windsor, see whether he liked it, maybe play some Junior B with the Windsor Bulldogs, maybe some with the big junior club.
DeBoer wasn't so sure.
"It was a little overwhelming for a kid from a small town," DeBoer recalled.
He had been playing Junior C hockey in his hometown of Dunnville, Ontario. He wondered whether he should go home.
But he didn't.
And that, as Robert Frost once opined, has made all the difference.
"The best move I ever made," said DeBoer, who would play four years for the Spitfires, winning a league championship and losing in a Memorial Cup final along the way.