There’s no doubt Justin Williams created a lifetime worth of memories with the teams he played for over his 19-year NHL career, especially as a Hurricanes. Below, our staff is going to share some of our favorite Williams stories/memories.
And we also want to hear your favorite Williams memories/stories, dear readers. Email them to us at email@example.com, or send them to us via Tweet or direct message @CanesCountry. The best memories and stories will be featured in a collection that will be published next Monday; submissions must be in by Saturday at midnight.
Without further ado, our favorite Williams stories:
When it comes to Justin Williams, there are so many memories that come to mind. Obviously his biggest moment and the one most will point to was game seven in 2006. Then there was his assist on Brock McGinn’s double-overtime winner versus Washington, or even just him being named captain. All of those are perfect moments to be one’s favorite Justin Williams moment but I am going to go off the road a little and pick a specific game for a specific reason as my personal favorite Justin Williams moment.
Back in February 202, the Hurricanes traveled to Las Vegas to play the Golden Knights. My wife and I decided this would be the perfect opportunity to go to Vegas for the first time ever as well as go to our first ever road game. Many of you will remember this was a crazy game that saw the Hurricanes come back from two different two-goal deficits. The Canes came all the way back and the game went to overtime.
After killing a penalty during OT, the contest went to a shootout. Teuvo Teravainen shot first and was denied (with some controversy), Andrei Svechnikov scored next, James Reimer made two big saves, and with the game on the line good old J-Willy came up to bat. For the third time since his return earlier in 2020, Mr. Game 7 buried the puck sealing the come-from-behind victory for the Hurricanes. It’s a story I’ve written about before and I’d rank the game overall as one of my all-time favorites just for the experience and personal level that went along with being there. It just seems fitting that Justin Williams was the one to provide the celebration at the end as he has done so many times before.
As someone who was only 10 and not much of a hockey fan in 2006, my favorite Justin Williams memory comes from a much more recent playoff moment. Having followed the team closely throughout college, I was heavily invested in the 2019 playoff run, and Williams’ pass that led to Brock McGinn’s double-overtime winner is one of my favorite sports memories of all time.
With friends in a great sports bar, The Player’s Retreat near NC State’s campus, I watched Williams and the Canes not only win a playoff series, but win one over the Capitals, an all-time great moment in franchise history started by one of its all-time greats.
I mentioned this in the column I posted Thursday night after he announced his retirement, but what I’ll remember Justin Williams for is how he made everyone around him better at their jobs, including the media. There are guys in the locker room that everyone knows you can go to for easy quotes, guys to whom you can ask a half-baked question that takes very little thought and know you’ll get a cliche-ridden answer that is nothing more than a bunch of words that signifies little.
That wasn’t Williams. If you sidled up to him with a “so, talk about what happened in the second period”-type non-question, he would give you a courteous but terse answer. The implication was clear: if you were going to waste everyone’s time with a by-the-numbers question that had little thought behind it, he wasn’t going to take his time dignifying it with any more than a pro forma answer. But if you showed that you had put some thought behind your question, he would always give you real insight, the kind of stuff that you only get from players who have seen it all in their careers.
Challenging? Yeah. When you’re on a deadline at the end of the game, it’s too easy to mail it in, and Justin Williams doesn’t allow anyone to mail it in. But I truly respected him for it. At the end of the 2018-19 season, when it was no guarantee that we’d see him on the ice again, I made sure to tell him how much I appreciated him making me better at my job. There’s a reason he commanded respect from everyone he came across. He challenged everyone, the way few people - hockey players or otherwise - truly do.
(Also, I appreciated the fact that, while he was playing, I still wasn’t older than the entire Hurricanes roster: Williams is exactly one month older than me.)
When Justin Williams signed with the Hurricanes before the 2017 season, the only thing I could think was: well, if he couldn’t come back to us in Los Angeles, then at least he was going home.
If you happened to miss my formal introduction here on the site, I also cover the Los Angeles Kings. While I didn’t start writing about the team until 2016, after Williams had already moved on, his influence still loomed large over the Kings, even while he was playing on the complete other side of the country. For Kings fans, Williams may forever be the one who got away, and his departure from the room is still something that people point to as a huge loss in character and leadership for the team.
I was in Los Angeles for Williams’ first game back, during his stint with the Capitals, and the number of Kings fans who swarmed the visitor’s side of the ice, just to welcome Williams, was immense, But watching him with the Hurricanes truly felt like watching someone slide right back into where they belonged. As a casual Hurricanes fan, I loved getting to see him step fully into his role as a leader, a C on his chest for the first time, as he helped provide mentorship and a stabilizing influence for a young Hurricanes team.
While I of course have my share of memories of Williams on the Kings, one of my most enduring memories of him is actually from his time on the Hurricanes: an emotional Williams after helping the team defeat the Washington Capitals in the playoff. For all the game seven heroics, for all of the awards and accolades to his name, seeing the grizzled veteran sit in quiet wonder at what he and his team were accomplishing is something that’s always going to stick with me.
Williams didn’t like drama, nor did he like the spotlight, but everywhere he went and with everything he did, it only seemed to gravitate towards him more and more.
For me, my favorite moment was one I had the opportunity to cover in person. A moment that you couldn’t have scripted any better. Williams’ return game.
It was 12 days removed from his announcement to return and, even more pressing, two days removed from Dougie Hamilton’s injury. The team was on a three-game slide and desperately needed a win.
The Hurricanes were playing the New York Islanders in PNC Arena and it was becoming quite an intense match. But, after three back-and-forth periods, the low-scoring event was reaching its final moment still tied. Overtime had seen no winner crowned, so the game headed to a shootout.
Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen scored for the Canes, but so too did Mat Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier for the Isles. Sudden death was upon them.
After those four, the scoring seemed to dry up with both James Reimer and Thomas Greiss battling to keep their teams in it. The eighth, and what would be the final, round was reached.
Head coach Rod Brind’Amour turned to his former teammate and longtime friend and gave him the nod and over the boards he went. When Williams’ skates touched the ice, the crowd just went ballistic.
“I wish I had done it earlier,” Brind’Amour had said after the game. “I kind of forgot that that ovation was going to come.”
Williams collected the puck and effortlessly glided down the ice. When he was just between the middle of both circles, he rifled it five-hole on Griess.
While the veteran looked poised and professional on the ice in that moment, he admitted that he wasn’t as calm on the inside.
“I don’t think you can calm yourself down at that point,” Williams had said after the game. “You do your best to breathe and take a deep breath and say ‘Here we go!’ I said it even before the game, ‘Trust yourself, trust your abilities, trust your instincts and go get it. That’s what got you here and that’s what will get me further.’”
Williams just had that ‘it’ factor. It’s why he got the moniker of Mr. Game 7 and it’s why he was such an important player to this team and organization. Not just for what he accomplished on the ice, but what he brought to this fanbase too.
My favorite Williams moment came in the Hurricanes’ locker room following a regular-season loss. In late March of 2019, with the Canes looking to solidify their first playoff appearance in 10 years, the league-leading Lightning came to town. The Canes got off a good start, and built a 3-2 lead through two periods.
Things unraveled in the third, with the Lightning scoring four unanswered goals for a 6-3 win. With the Canes in the thick of the playoff race, it was a harmful but not catastrophic loss. And it wasn’t exactly unforgivable to lose to that absolute juggernaut Lightning team, especially after hanging with them through two periods.
But you sure wouldn’t know that by talking to Williams. Williams wasn’t interested in the fact that the Hurricanes played a good game against the top team in the league through two periods. He wasn’t interested in the fact that the Lightning were the top team in the league. He was interested in one simple fact: “We pissed it away, and it’s unacceptable.”
After the first question, Williams was radiating so much negative energy, so much disgust, so much anger, that everyone just kind of stood there in silence for a few seconds, to the the point that, for the first and only time I can remember, Hurricanes Vice President of Team Services and Communications had to say: “Going to need a question.” Over the course of a 1:22 scrum, Williams used the phrase “pissed it away” three times.
Why is this my favorite Williams memory? Because that’s Williams personified. The man hated losing, and used the phrase “We’re done losing” when he first returned to the Hurricanes in the 2017 offseason. It’s what made him the perfect captain for Rod Brind’Amour’s first team, and one that made the playoffs for the first time in a decade.
Williams wouldn’t settle for less than the best from anyone, his teammates included. It’s that mindset that propelled that team to that cathartic season. For a team that, in years past, would have talked about the positives of hanging with such a strong team through two periods, the only thing that mattered was that they didn’t win.
They pissed it away, and it wasn’t acceptable. For Justin Williams, nothing but the best ever was.