Last Thursday there were a handful of VIP in the press box shaking hands and conferring with their personal PR staff – though you would have had a hard time putting any names to the faces despite the fact that they’ve spent more time Dancing with the Stars than all the Hollywood paparazzi combined.
Dr. Dafydd (Dave) Rhys Williams, a Canadian astronaut who just returned from the International Space Station in August, watched the Canucks battle the Predators.
He came to General Motors Place bearing a gift – a graphic collage recounting his team’s last mission, STS-118 - with a small Canadian flag that accompanied him in space.
Williams said, “We’re really excited to present this to the Canucks, this flag flew out in space with us, 5.3 million miles. It’s got a great picture of me in the team Canada hockey jersey with the Canadian flag beside it, and a lot of these photos were taken during the space walk.”
Dave Williams, born May 16, 1954, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, like any Canadian child, grew up playing hockey with his friends down at the local pond and watching professional players speed across the ice.
“Yes I really enjoy hockey. When I was a kid growing up in Montreal, I used to love going to the Canadiens games and it was a big thing going down to the forum, of course, now we’ve got the new forum in Montreal, but it’s got some great memories for me,” said Williams.
Although hockey was a part of his life, most of it was dedicated to his studies in hopes of becoming an astronaut. He studied vigorously at McGill University receiving a Bachelor of Science degree, a Master in Science, a Doctorate in Medicine, a Master of Surgery, and lastly, he completed a residency in family practice in the Faculty of Medicine at University of Ottawa. With all this hard work, it is no wonder that Dave Williams is very successful in achieving such goals.
With all the time he has in space, one would wonder how much time an astronaut has on his/her hands. Sadly, die-hard hockey fans, who happen to be astronauts, are unable to watch or listen to a live broadcasting of a game.
“Well, unfortunately we don’t [watch hockey in space], we don’t have a lot of time to be able to do that. But I was joking around saying I should bring a copy of the Canada-Russia series up in space and leave it at the space station for folks to watch,” said Williams.
Astronauts who plan to go to space are prohibited to play body contact sports. This means that Williams was deprived of hockey before and during his launch into space.
“I’ve been in Houston for the last 15 years,” said Williams. “So, we don’t really have much of an opportunity to be able to play. And then when we’re training for space flight, we’re actually not allowed to participate in contact sports and things like that prior to flying -- in case we injure ourselves, we’re taken off the crew.”
He is now a veteran astronaut having successfully completed two missions. His first launch was back in 1998 and he came back from another just this past August. For the past couple months, Williams traveled across Canada to speak to high school and university students of his adventures in attempts to inspire them of the unlimited possibilities.
Williams said, “We’re here in Vancouver doing our post-guide tour in Canada. So we were in Ottawa earlier this week talking to kids in high schools and universities across the country.”
His visit to Vancouver gave him the opportunity to attend a Canuck hockey game. He is a big hockey fan willing to cheer for any Canadian team, but the one team he grew up watching remains his favourite.
“In terms of hockey teams, I have to admit that I’m a die-hard Canadiens fan, but it also depends on whichever city I’m in, tonight we’re rooting for the Canucks and hopefully they’ll come in from behind,” said Williams.
Okay, so he’s not a huge Canuck fan, but fellow hockey fans can relate to his favourite hockey player, Bobby Hull, Ontario-born professional hockey player.
“[It would have to be] Tiger Williams for the Toronto Maple Leafs,” Williams jokes as his favourite hockey player. “But actually overall I’d say Bobbie Hall. I’m just really, really impressed because of his playing style. It goes back many years, but he’s just a fantastic player. Also, Wayne Gretzky is really a tremendous inspiration.”
Maybe one day there can be hockey in space, but for now, Dave Williams will have to watch the games on television or in the stadium as his old hockey skates wait to be laced up again. Photos provided by NASA.