Victoria, B.C., February 23, 1963. A group of hockey fans are gathered around a hotel lobby’s TV set watching Hockey Night in Canada coming through from Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens. The Leafs are facing the doormat Boston Bruins who have Duluth native Tommy Williams in their lineup. Described by the media of the day “as hockey’s lonely American” in the then six-team NHL, he silences the Toronto partisans with a third period goal and the Bruins go on to a 4-2 victory, one of only 14 they would win that year.
Warren “Rip” Williams raised his sons, Tommy and “Butch” to be hockey players, but it would be Tommy who would make his mark first. Born April 17, 1940 in the Minnesota city at the Head of the Lakes, his father taught him the game on the rinks of Lower Chester Park. After youth hockey, it was on to Duluth Central High School where his superb talent became quickly apparent and he was soon playing in advanced competition with men years his senior. “Rip” felt he needed more intense competition, so he found that in Canada with the junior Fort William, Ontario Hurricanes. It was a time in which junior hockey had yet to develop in the U.S.
The year 1960 was an Olympic year and Williams was an obvious selection to the team as a 19-year-old who helped bring the U.S. its first gold medal at Sqaw Valley, Calif.
Tommy would not return to junior and while the University of Minnesota was a possibility, he turned pro with Boston who sent him to Kingston. He was in the NHL after a season and a half and would later remember: “I can recall my first game [actually second] with the Bruins. We beat Chicago, [5-3], in Boston, and I scored two goals. I didn’t sleep all night. Another highlight for me was once in the playoffs against Montreal  when I was named the first star.”
Williams would spend six full seasons and part of two others as the Bruins transitioned to a contender with the arrival of Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito on the scene.
In an ideal world he’d have preferred to remain in Boston, but he was dealt along with Barry Gibbs to his hometown team, the Minnesota North Stars. Tommy’s best year in Boston was 1967-68 when he scored 50 points (18g, 32a), but he bested that in his first year with the North Stars with 67 points (15g, 52a).
Williams was elected to the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 1981 and died on February 8, 1992. He was only 51.
1910s: Frank Winters
1920s: Frank "Moose" Goheen
1930s: Doc Romnes
1940s: Frank Brimsek
1950s: John Mayasich
1960s: Tommy Williams
1970s: Bill Nyrop
1980s: Neal Broten
1990s: Phil Housley
2000s: Jamie Langenbrunner