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Thoughtful 'Tiger' reflects on record career

by John McGourty

Whether he was pummeling your favorite team's tough guy or scoring a game-winning goal, more often that not, Dave 'Tiger' Williams found a way to make a difference almost every night he went on the ice.
Let's be honest here: If you were a fan of any other team than the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1974-80, the Vancouver Canucks from 1980-84, the Detroit Red Wings in 1984-85 or the Los Angeles Kings from 1985-88, Dave "Tiger" Williams drove you crazy.

Whether he was pummeling your favorite team's tough guy or scoring a game-winning goal, more often that not, Tiger Williams found a way to make a difference almost every night he went on the ice.

Williams holds the NHL record with 3,966 penalty minutes. He stood up for himself and he stood up for teammates with a fury rarely seen in sports. "Hard to play against" is one of the greatest compliments that can be bestowed upon a hockey player and Tiger Williams stands at or near the top in that category.

But Tiger Williams was not a one-dimensional "enforcer," he was also a good hockey player and an offensive threat. The penalty minutes, the legendary tussles and the fighter's face have combined to create a legend that has overshadowed a productive career. In 962 NHL games, Williams had 241 goals and 272 assists for 513 points. That's 0.53 points per game, well above the average among NHL players.

Williams returned to Toronto from his home in Calgary for the Hockey Hall of Fame weekend, Nov. 10-12, and played in the Legends Game in the Air Canada Centre. He received a huge ovation from the Toronto fans and he was one of the better skaters among the retirees. That's because he's never really taken off his skates.

In the good-humored banter in the pre-game dressing room, several of the great retired players questioned themselves about why they were doing this, not having been on skates in some time. There were quite a few nursing sore muscles the next day. Williams was asked how long it had been since he skated.

"I played Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, but it's not always hockey," Williams said. "They have the Olympic (speedskating) oval in Calgary and I like to skate around that big oval at least once a week. I play the old way, the way Gordie Howe and Johnny Bower did it, play until the end of April and then don't put the skates on again until October."

Williams wrote an autobiography, Tiger, A Hockey Story, with James Lawton that was very insightful and honest about his upbringing in a poor Saskatchewan town and his struggles to achieve his dream of playing in the NHL. He confronted every opponent, on and off the ice, with the simple concept "you will not take my dream away from me."

He remains a thoughtful, strong man at 53.

"You gotta do what you do best on a team. That's why they call it a team. That's just the way it works," Williams said. "Sometimes, you might get put into a role you don't want, but if you're the best guy on the team for that role, whether it's a pretty role or not, you do it. ... Some of those jobs are not very comfortable tasks to try to perform, but if you're on a team, fill that role and be the best you can be."

Williams grew up in a big family in an economically depressed area at a time when money was not as easy to come by as today. He was lucky to get out of town, let alone become a famous athlete, rich and popular.

"All of us who played in the National Hockey League are lucky that we got to live our dream," Williams said. "That doesn't happen a lot in life. It's a wonderful thing. The hardest thing about living your dream is that dream does come to an end, sooner or later, and there's a lot of life to live after that. Nothing will fulfill like that.

"You can have success and you can go make money -- I make more money than I ever did in the NHL -- it's not the same feeling as when you played in the National Hockey League. We played with the players and for the fans. We're all part of it, the fans and the players. It's not much of a game without the fans and you never win without a good team.

Like just about everything else, hockey has its critics, as does the NHL. Count Williams among the game's strongest and most emphatic defenders.

"It's a great industry, probably the best pro sport in the world because of the people in hockey, we have a pretty squeaky-clean record compared to a lot of other things,” Williams said. “I think we run a pretty classy sport, the game of hockey."

Williams was selected with the 31st overall pick of the 1974 NHL Draft by the Maple Leafs and their general manager, Jim Gregory, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame the day following the Legends game. Williams came to Toronto, in part, to see his old boss receive the honor. Gregory is a gentleman well liked by many, but Williams' penchant for penalties brought out another side of Gregory.

Williams exchanged unpleasantries and welts with a generation of NHL scrappers.

"It's very well deserved by Mr. Gregory," Williams said. "He was a great person, a great GM and I'm very happy for him. I started my NHL career here in Toronto. Jim drafted me and signed me. I learned a lot from Jim Gregory. I'll tell you one thing about Jim Gregory: He's a really nice guy, but just don't ever get him mad at you because if he's mad at you, it is not pretty. I've seen him come unglued at me a couple of times when I was a younger man. I laugh about it now, but he scared the living bejeebers out of me."

Williams stands about six inches taller than Gregory, who's built short and solid. Think Tyson vs. Berbick. Williams wanted no part of it.

Williams exchanged unpleasantries and welts with a generation of NHL scrappers. He was asked who was the second-toughest man in the NHL during his heyday.

"There were lots of guys. Every team had somebody," Williams said. "I had my favorites. I loved Dave Semenko, Terry O'Reilly, Dave 'The Hammer' Schultz. Those guys did their job, game in and game out, and they were very, very good at it. They were the top of the league in what their jobs were on their individual teams and they were fun to play against. It's not fun getting the snot beat out of you, but you can't win them all. You don't score on every breakaway and you don't win every scrap. If you did, it would be no fun."

Williams, who lives in Calgary, has gone on to a highly successful business career in real estate, investments and the petroleum industry. He is the president of Pacific Rodera Energy Inc. and provides management consulting services through TWE Enterprises Ltd.

Pacific Rodera is engaged in exploration, development and production of natural gas and light oil reserves primarily in British Columbia and the Northwest Territories. Shares trade on the Toronto Venture Exchange under the symbol "PRD."

He was thinking of selling the company or stepping down as president, but recent events have him thinking he may continue building Pacific Rodera.

"Hard times are the time to build a company," he said. "You can't make money building at the top of the cycle."


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