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No taming Tiger

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

Tiger Williams is the NHL's career leader in penalty minutes.

Tiger Williams is fifth in Vancouver Canucks franchise history for penalty minutes.

Tiger Williams is one tough son of a gun.

Tiger Williams is also a babysitter.

The Canucks will pay tribute to Dave ‘Tiger’ Williams, one of the biggest personalities to ever don a Vancouver sweater and a key member of the 1982 run to the Stanley Cup final, on January 7th when the Edmonton Oilers come to town.

Given the assignment to write a story on the fiery forward, I called Williams to get the scoop on his playing days with the Canucks from 1979 to 1984. All was going well until his young grandson began crying in the background. Pausing for a second, Williams soothed the youngster before returning to the question at hand.

A tender Williams? Had I stumbled onto an untapped gold mine?

Believe it or not, Williams showing a soft side wasn’t even the most revealing thing to come of the conversation.

Think of Williams and the player who comes to mind is a vicious, no holds barred, barbarian who left every ounce of effort he had on the ice each and every game he played, and not only for the Canucks, but also with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings and Hartford Whalers.

Williams evoked fear in others, it was the only response he elicited for 343 games with Vancouver, and yet it was the 5-foot-11, 190-pound rumbler who was typically filled with the most fear.

“It used to bug a lot of guys when I said this, and I truly believe it and I’ve been saying it my whole life, but I don’t want to be average,” explained Williams. “It takes no effort to be average. If you’re going to be average and do an average job, fear is probably not going to be a part of your life.

“When you can deal with fear, then you’ll probably make yourself into something. You’ve got to be scared everyday that you’re going to lose and scared everyday that someone is going to take your job. I was scared every second I played, that’s what it’s all about.”

Those aren’t exactly words you’d expect to hear from a man with 3,966 penalty minutes, 401 more than Dale Hunter, who played 445 more games than Williams and sits second in NHL history.

Williams was once quoted as saying “If you’re not willing to die to win, i don’t want you on my team.”

Now that’s more like it.

“I’m the same way today and that quote would apply today,” said Williams. “If you’re working with me or working around me and you don’t want to be the best you can be everyday, then just stay home. Stay out of my way. I wish everybody had that attitude and then we wouldn’t have a lot of the problems we do in the world.”

Since his retirement following a 26 game season with the Whalers in 1987-88, Williams has been best remembered by Canucks fans for one of the most infamous goal celebrations in NHL history.

The first time Williams was traded, it was to the Canucks. He didn’t want to leave his beloved Toronto Maple Leafs, but he quickly realized he had a home in Vancouver. Upon his return to Maple Leaf Gardens one chilly December night in 1980, Williams scored and rebelliously hopped on his stick for a celebratory glide down the ice. His teammates loved it, the Leafs not so much; the celebration continues to be copied to this day.

Funny thing is that when he’s approached by fans, they don’t want to talk about his stick ride. Most of them would much rather thank him for the incredible effort he put forth game in and game out, effort that few players display with such consistency these days.

That’s what made Williams so beloved fans everywhere, especially in Vancouver.

“Most fans want one thing out of their players, they want an honest day’s work. That’s what they want. If management brings the right culture around your team and you fit in with your teammates, then it’s all about getting the job done.

“When I was in Vancouver we were lucky in the fact that we had really good guys, great teammates and I thought we had great coaching when we had Harry Neale and Roger Neilson. In ‘82 it was the first time the franchise got to go to the Stanley Cup finals, which is the ultimate goal of every player, well and to get there and then finish the job. In our case we never finished the job, but Vancouver is the most special to me. There’s no other place where I got the opportunity to play for the Holy Grail. It seems like just yesterday.”

From playing in the Stanley Cup Final to babysitting, Tiger Williams continues to do it all the only way he knows how: at his best.

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