April 28, 2006

Tiger Williams

Golf has Tiger Woods. But hockey fans know that there is only one Tiger.

While Weyburn, Saskatchewan's David Williams might not have the same grace as the golf prodigy, his competitiveness is second to none. It is this competitive zeal and likeability that makes Williams not only a fan favorite, but a legend of the game.

Asked how he got the nickname Tiger, Williams credited the trademark to his very first hockey coach John Norman. "I've had it all my life," Williams said. "It was partly because of my personality and partly because of the way I played when I was a kid."

The beauty of the beast known as Tiger Williams is that he played the same way as a kid as he did in his 14 year NHL career - full out and all heart. And he does the same thing today in every single project he is involved with.

The role he played for his entire career would be that of the enforcer, one whose job was to protect the more skillful players. Tiger is best known as the NHL's all time penalty minute leader. In 14 seasons he accumulated 3966 minutes in the sin bin, plus another 455 in the playoffs, also a record. That's 74 hours, or more than 3 complete days in the box! Tiger would probably insist that he didn't deserve half of those penalties, yet in all likelihood he deserved even more.

Though a tough way to make a living, Williams offers no apologies for his vocation.

"If I had to do it again I would probably do it the same way," he said. "The thing is, anybody can pretend they can pass the puck, shoot the puck and play on the power play. If you want to find out how great of an all-around player you are, go stand toe-to-toe with some guy 6-3, 230 pounds and then go play the next shift. Not many guys can do that."

When asked who was his toughest match, the always entertaining Tiger once quickly responded by rolling his eyes and saying "All of them!!!" Although he did have lots of respect for a certain breed of tough guys.

"The guys who I have the most respect for would be the Terry O'Reilly-type of guys. Not only were they tough, but they played every third shift and played 80 games a year. Those are the guys who rank very, very high," admitted Williams.

Williams says it's tough to rate today's modern punchers, but he figures nobody's been much tougher than Dave Semenko.

"When Sammy hit you, he just rocked ya."

Though known for his on-ice antics (he once rode the stick like a witch's broom after scoring a big goal) and famous fisticuffs, lost in the Tiger Williams story is that he was a pretty good hockey player when he wasn't in the penalty box.

In four seasons with Swift Current of the Western Hockey League (WHL), he twice scored over 100 points in a season. And back then, he even considered offense his ticket to the professional ranks.

"I always scored a lot," said the NHL's all-time leader in penalty minutes. "When I started in '74, we didn't have many physical guys in Toronto. We had a lot of highly talented guys and I just started pitching in in that area. Then one thing leads to another in the NHL, and you get slotted into whatever script they think you should be in."

Tiger, at age 16 dropped out of school to get a job to help support his family, was surrounded by some nice talent in Swift Current, namely Terry Ruskowski, Bryan Trottier and Ron Delorme

A second round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tiger's first impression on the Leafs' brass was not a strong one. He was recruited by the legendary Johnny Bower, who fought hard for his drafting despite suspect skating ability. The Leafs did take Tiger, but in his first training camp general manager Jim Gregory was quoted as saying "He not only can't skate, he can't fight!" after Tiger was sucker punched by Keith Magnuson of Chicago - one of hockey's true heavyweights.

Despite this set back, Tiger went down to the Leafs farm team in Oklahoma and worked as hard as he did on the farms in Saskatchewan. By January he had earned his ticket back to the NHL. This time around, he was here to say.

As mentioned earlier, Tiger accepted his role of providing a physical presence. He scrapped and fought and put his body through an immense toll. By doing so his teammates played better. They were inspired by Tiger's effort. Tiger was also the kind of guy who would tell you if he didn't think you were working hard enough, and teammates began to work their collective butts off as they didn't want to be accountable to Tiger.

The Leafs gradually became a strong team by the late 1970s, thanks largely to the big line of Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald and Williams. But soon the Leafs would hire Punch Imlach as general manager. Imlach was the architect of the Leafs glory days in the 1960s, but this time around the franchise went the complete opposite direction due to bad trades and hirings.

One of the causalities was the ever popular Williams. He was popular with everyone except Imlach. In early 1980 he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks.

If Tiger isn't best known as a Leaf then it is as a Vancouver Canuck. He has a love affair with British Columbia that is only matched by Beautiful B.C.'s love affair with him.

Tiger enjoyed his best season as a Canuck. In 1980-81 he led the entire league in penalty minutes with 343 minutes. Despite this, he scored 35 goals -and 62 points while representing Vancouver at the NHL All Star Game!

Tiger was a huge part of the Canucks Cinderella run at the Stanley Cup finals in 1982. His feud with Billy Smith in that final series is now stuff of great legend. He wasn't counted on as heavily for offense as he was the year before, but he contributed 3 goals and 10 points in 17 post season games, plus an unthinkable 118 PIM!

Unfortunately Tiger's offensive contributions dried up the next two years, while at the same time the Canucks were entering their lowest point in franchise history.

By 1984-85 Tiger was traded to the Detroit Red Wings. Some suggested the reason for the trade was because Tiger was writing an autobiography, but he insists it was because he couldn't agree on a contract with the Canucks.

Tiger didn't finish the year in the Motor City though, as he was traded to sunny Los Angeles at the trading deadline. Tiger would enjoy two good season in the City of Angels before finishing out his career with an injury plagued season in Hartford.

In total he scored 241 goals and 272 assists for 513 points in 963 games. Those are numbers that suggest that he was much more than just a goon.

Now that he is out of hockey, Tiger excels is many other aspects of life. He still loves the game and plays in charity events regularly. The gloves stay on during old timer matches, but he still serves a bit of a policeman if there is a local idiot trying to make a name for himself.

An equal love now is the British Columbia outdoors and hunting and fishing. Its amazing that he is able to get in as much recreation time as he does, as he is extremely successful in the business world. He has shown a great business sense in several different ventures. He came a long way from the days when he was a kid a can of Coca-Cola was a luxury. Tiger also likes to give back to the community, and is a big supporter of the Special Olympics

Despite the fact that Tiger's name is associated with violence in hockey, truth of the matter is he is one of the most entertaining and liked hockey players of all time, and a good role model for kids today. Tiger has this to say to young kids:

"I don't care if you are playing in old-timers hockey or in the NHL, the game deserves for you to be the best you can be that night. Life is too short to go through it half-assed."

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