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Catching Up With...

Catching up with Tiger Williams

Love of game still strong for Maple Leafs ambassador

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

TORONTO -- He made his living with cinder-block fists and is legendary for having the mug of a bulldog that forever chased parked cars. 

He wasn't the first choice after the game for a profound quote or rich insight. But it was an introspective Dave "Tiger" Williams who stood outside the Toronto Maple Leafs alumni dressing-room door after practice recently, speaking about the game that flows through his veins, talking about his friends and remembering the fallen.

Williams skated on New Year's Eve for the 2017 Rogers NHL Centennial Classic Alumni Game at Exhibition Stadium, his Maple Leafs falling 4-3 to an alumni team from the Detroit Red Wings. Twenty-four hours earlier, heading out into his afternoon, wiping perspiration from his brow, he was in deep thought.

"Just seeing the guys today in our practice, you can't buy that," Williams said.

Williams, who will turn 63 on Feb. 3, hasn't played in nearly two decades, retiring from the Hartford Whalers in 1988 after 1,045 NHL regular season and Stanley Cup Playoff games.

"It's a game that keeps you young, that keeps the kid in you," Williams said. "Everybody should play the game as long as they can."

It is that mantra which has defined Williams' attitude throughout his post-playing career. 

Prior to the Centennial Classic alumni game, Williams spent a few days in Prince George, British Columbia, practicing with the Cariboo Cougars, one of Canada's elite Midget AAA teams.

"It was good to be out with those kids and playing hard," he said. "The game is about playing hard. There are lots of guys with talent but if you can't work hard, talent is no good to you."

Williams knows about work ethic, having ground out an industrial-strength living for five NHL teams between 1974-75 and 1987-88. He played the first seven seasons of his NHL career with Toronto before suiting up with the Vancouver Canucks, Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings and the Whalers. He finished his NHL career with 3,966 penalty minutes, a League record, 401 more than Dale Hunter, who sits in second place.

The Maple Leafs chose Williams in the second round (No. 31) of the 1974 NHL Draft out of Swift Current, Saskatchewan, and to this day Tiger bleeds Toronto blue. He speaks fondly of representing the Maple Leafs as an ambassador, travelling far and wide to promote his team.

Last weekend, Williams was in Moose Jaw, 100 miles from his Saskatchewan hometown of Weyburn, as a star attraction of the traveling Rogers Hometown Hockey. 

"It's a strong brand," Tiger said of the Maple Leafs. "We just need to get a hell of a lot more wins than we've had the last few years. It's not as easy as everyone thinks it is."

He embraces his Maple Leafs memories, and holds dear the long relationships he maintains with former teammates Lanny McDonald and Darryl Sittler and their families.

"We've been hanging around for going on 45 years, that's what's special about it," Williams said. "As tight as we are as players, when we get out of the game, everybody seems to go their own ways. I don't think there are a lot of guys with strong relationships going back 40 years like Lanny and Darryl and I have."

Williams still feels completely at home in Maple Leaf Gardens, grateful that an ice surface remains in the 86-year-old building that's been remodeled into a retail complex and Mattamy Athletic Centre, the hockey home for Ryerson University. 

Maple Leafs fans love Williams unreservedly, and the feeling is entirely mutual. A day before the New Year's Eve alumni game, there was the matter of whether all would be treated to his famous goal celebration, riding his twig like a broomstick down the ice, a move he made famous during his playing career.

A grin spread across his well-lived face as he headed for the door.

"Well," Williams growled, "hopefully I get to touch the puck!"

The puck would indeed come his way, but without a goal the broomstick ride remained in the mists, tucked in the memories of the scrappy forward's many fans and the cherished friends with whom he still skates to this day.  

And Tiger could live with that very nicely indeed.

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