By Justin Williams
My story begins at age four in Cobourg, Ontario...
I was born in Cobourg and I played most of my minor hockey in Port Hope. Cobourg is really small – around 12,000 or 13,000 people – and it is about an hour outside of Toronto. It was a pretty good hockey hot-bed with its proximity to Toronto and there was one rink that everyone went to. For some cheaper ice we would go to rinks outside of town.
I think some of the best memories for me as a kid were skating on the pond in my front yard. That is where most of my hockey memories come from, skating on the pond in my front yard with my dad and my sister. There was no zamboni so it was a little bumpy and we had to shovel the snow out of the way but those were pretty much my first memories of skating.
|Justin Williams was a first-round pick of the Flyers in 2000. He debuted for the Flyers just a couple months later. |
The pond was probably 20 feet wide by 20 feet long. We were able to skate throughout December, January and February. It’s tough to remember a lot of the stuff when I was younger but I remember watching a couple home videos the last few years, seeing myself and my parents traveling all around to all the towns around here. I remember we always got the worst hours for practice – 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. The hours weren’t great but I do remember getting up and playing and enjoying it. Everyone used to chase around the puck and there wasn’t much structure but I remember it being a lot of fun and that’s what I loved to do.
I think that anyone, regardless of their role in the NHL, used to be one of the best on their team. Whether you’re a role player, a fighter or a goal-scorer I think that you were always one of the best on your team at a young age. There were a few guys, myself included, who were just a little bit better than everyone else. I remember just being successful and always wanting to score goals. When I was a little bit younger I remember looking into the crowd to see if mom and dad were watching.
I think almost any town in Canada has a good hockey feel to it. We used to play against Toronto teams. When I looked up to what I considered to be the best type of hockey, it was certainly the NHL. Just hearing the Hockey Night in Canada song on a Saturday night was a huge treat and something I will always remember. We didn’t have DIRECTV or cable then so we only had a couple channels and one of them was CBC. Every Saturday night it was a big treat when the NHL games were on and that was kind of the big thing for me. Watching the NHL, I knew that’s where I wanted to be.
Even though I am from Canada, I never really had any type of contact with an NHL player when I was a kid. I remember participating in a hockey camp in Nadoc and one of the guys there was drafted into the NHL and that was a big deal. He used to be around but I don’t remember meeting any NHL players or coaches.
|Justin Williams got a stick from Adam Foote, then with the Quebec Nordiques, when he was playing in a pee wee tournament about 20 years ago. He still has the stick to this day. |
One thing I do remember is playing in a Pee Wee tournament in Quebec and we watched the Nordiques practice. I yelled over to Adam Foote, who was pretty young at the time and probably a rookie, but I yelled to him, ‘Hey Adam, can I have your stick?’ and he came over and gave me his stick. I still have it to this day.
I played other sports growing up. I played hockey, baseball, basketball, rugby, soccer and volleyball. If it was at the school, I played it. I just loved sports. I think the sports just kind of fizzled out themselves as I don’t think that there was one set time that I quit all sports. I played all sports regardless of hockey but hockey was the sport that never fizzled out for me. Hockey was just a part of my life and the other sports I played just to be active and because I liked them.
There was one point where I thought that I really had a shot to play at the professional level I was 16 years-old and I was a Bantam. After Bantam hockey you start looking for junior teams to play for because this was before the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). So during your Bantam year you start looking around for teams to play for. I went for some tryouts and was cut from a few teams and that was pretty humbling. At that point you have to realize what way to go, whether you still think you can make it at this thing or do you need to start something else.
|Williams won a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006. He scored the empty net goal that clinched their game seven win. |
I was cut from a few teams but I made one and was able to make the transition and was drafted into the OHL as a sixth-round pick. I played one full year there and didn’t have much success. I didn’t really realize my real potential until that next year. I scored a lot of goals and had some great success with Plymouth of the OHL. Midway through the season you see yourself as one of the potential first-round picks. At that point I started to realize this might be able to happen for me.
After getting drafted by the Flyers there wasn’t much time before I was in the NHL. I didn’t really have too much time to think. It happened fast for me. I had a good year in juniors and was drafted first-round, which was awesome, and then a couple months later you are flown in for your first NHL game as an 18 year-old. It was a pretty far cry from three years ago when I was cut from a team.
At that time it happened really quickly for me. I got there and you just felt that presence in the locker room. You try and act cool but really you want to act like you belong there. Even though you watched these guys, and looked up to them, you are suddenly dressing with them and getting ready for a game. It’s pretty awesome. I was suddenly playing with guys like Rick Tocchet, who played in L.A. for a bit, Keith Primeau, John LeClair, Mark Recchi and Eric Desjardins. There were a lot of real good veteran leaders there, and those are the guys I initially learned from.
Getting to play in front of 20,000 fans and getting the chance to fulfill a lifetime goal – it was just so exciting.