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Kings' Conn Smythe winner Williams stays humble

by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings

NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.

It was Justin Williams' turn to speak during the Los Angeles Kings' Stanley Cup rally at Staples Center, three days removed from a second NHL championship in three seasons. Bob Miller, the Kings' play-by-play man, summoned Williams to the podium with a rousing introduction that featured several nicknames for the Conn Smythe Trophy winner.



However, one of them didn't sit well with Williams.

"I hate that 'Mr. Game 7' nickname. I can't stand it," he said to the crowd with a sheepish smile.

Three months later, does he still hate it?

"Yeah, absolutely," Williams said during the NHL Player Media Tour. "I hate it because they kind of postered me up as a Game 7 guy, but our team's success has let me be successful in those games."

With Williams' work in Game 7s -- a 7-0 record, seven goals, a League-record 14 points -- the moniker is more than fitting. But that's generally how it goes with the 32-year-old forward. Try to single him out with praise and he'll find a way to deflect it to those around him, whether it's his teammates, coach, general manager, family, or those who won the Conn Smythe before him.

"It's such a trophy that oozes history and you look at the names on it, it's pretty surreal knowing you're going to be in company with those guys and your name is going to be on it," Williams said. "You're going to be a part of history. That's very special and very humbling for me."

Having been individually recognized on the biggest stage in hockey, the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Williams said he doesn't think he will be a focus of opponents this season.

"I think the depth on our team kind of deters other teams from targeting anybody," he said, again taking the attention off himself. "Because we have lines who could score, I think that's a big part of why we've been successful the past few years. Because we have stability within the lines and we have contributions from everyone."

Before "Mr. Game 7" and playoff MVP, Williams had a different label: injury-prone. A first-round pick (No. 28) by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2000 who jumped to the NHL from juniors as a 19-year-old, he missed time with a torn ACL and MCL (twice), a broken hand, a broken leg, a torn Achilles tendon and a dislocated shoulder, among other injuries.

"As a hockey player, you don't want to be labeled because that will follow you everywhere," said Williams, who hasn't a missed a game during the past three seasons. "I've been able to stay healthy the last few years and a lot of that comes from knowing your body, preparing the right way and knowing what you can and can't do on the ice that's going to get you into vulnerable positions."

When Williams has been healthy, he's been effective, and a winner. After 3 1/2 rocky seasons in Philadelphia, he was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes for Danny Markov in January 2004. In 2005-06, his first full season with the Hurricanes and the first in which he played all 82 games, he had 31 goals, 45 assists and 76 points to help lead Carolina to its first Stanley Cup title. After another full season in 2006-07, when Williams scored a career-high 33 goals, his career stalled because of some of the injuries.

Enter Kings general manager Dean Lombardi, who acquired Williams prior to the 2009 NHL Trade Deadline and took a fair amount of criticism for doing so. Williams said Lombardi wanting him in L.A. boosted him at a time when he sorely needed it.

"We've had many conversations. He's really helped instill a confidence back in my abilities and my game and I'm thankful for that," Williams said.

For a while, though, it looked like the critics might be right. Williams, who was on injured reserve when he was traded to the Kings, played 49 games the next season in 2009-10, limited by a broken leg, and was a healthy scratch in three games of their six-game, first-round loss to the Vancouver Canucks.

From that low point, Williams rewrote the script in Hollywood by staying healthy and becoming the key contributor on a championship team that Lombardi envisioned he could be. In the Kings' dominant 20-game run to their first Cup championship in 2012, Williams had four goals, 11 assists and was plus-8. In the 2013 postseason that ended in a Western Conference Final loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, he had six goals (two game-winners) and three assists in 18 games. His 2014 playoff performance -- nine goals (two game-winners), 16 assists and plus-13 -- cemented him as a bona fide star and three-time Cup-winner.

It is a journey that started in his hometown of Coubourg, Ontario. His father, Craig, and mother, Denise, were typical hockey parents, taking Justin "wherever I needed to go" while maintaining careers in sales and accounting, respectively. When Williams was young, his older sister and "No. 1 fan" Nikki had a ritual before his games.

"She had this song, the 'Unbelievable' song (by EMF), 'You're un-be-liev-able!'" Williams said. "She always used to make me listen to about 10 seconds of it before I went out there and she was like, 'Go get 'em.'"

Williams' family was on full display after the Kings' Cup triumph against the New York Rangers in June. He conducted his Conn Smythe press conference with 5-year-old son Jaxon on his lap, sharing the spotlight again in his finest hour.

"You don't get to this level by chance, you have to have a lot of family support," he said. "I'm the player I am and the person I am because of the upbringing I had and the support I had."

That support extends to his Kings teammates. They return for the 2014-15 season mostly intact, sparking talk of a repeat, but as a player who has had his share of ups and downs, Williams takes his usual humble and practical approach.

"Once you attain a goal, set another goal for yourself," Williams said. "My goal was making the NHL, after that it was being an impact player in the NHL, after that it was winning a Stanley Cup, after that it was winning another one. I don't know how good our team can be, how many more Cups we could win, but I hope we could win more. I just want to keep winning and play as long as I'm effective and have that drive. "

Williams said cashing in on perhaps one last big payday is not on his mind as he enters the final year of his contract.

"Not yet, not whatsoever," Williams said. "Nothing is going to deter me from playing the way I'm going to play. You just have a little bit extra added incentive knowing that this is your contract year, as everyone does. I'm going to do the best I can for myself and my family."

Author: Frank Mentesana | NHL.com Staff Writer

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