Posted by: cedarsurf | February 27, 2010

Tom Williams American

When I was a kid –hockey was a Canadian only game. There was only one American hockey player and his name was Tom Williams.

Born in Duluth, Minnesota, Williams was a member of the U.S. Olympic hockey team that defeated Czechoslovakia and won the Gold Medal at the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley. He scored one goal and had four assists while playing on the second line with Bill Christian and Roger Christian. The Christian brothers would go on to be hockey stick manufacturers.

Williams National Hockey League career began when he joined the Boston Bruins for the 1961–62 NHL season. After eight seasons with the Bruins (and a serious injury in 1968 that almost ended his career), Williams joined the Minnesota North Stars, where he played for a season and a half until he was traded to the California Golden Seals.

After just two seasons with the Golden Seals, Williams jumped to the World Hockey Association to play for the New England Whalers. Upon his return to the NHL, Williams joined the new expansion team Washington Capitals where he led the team in scoring (22 goals, 36 assists), and was involved in the franchise’s first penalty shot on December 5, 1974, against the Buffalo Sabers. Williams retired during the 1975–76 NHL season.

Europeans –Inge Hammastrom and Borje Salming being amongst the first-were light years away.

Despite this limited presence of only one American player it seemed terribly important to me as a child that hockey was Canada’s game. This is well before our identity was reduced to Tim Horton’s and hockey.

I was thinking about this today when I found myself in the women’s bathroom (another Sports Crap moment) at the Panda Gardens Chinese food restaurant here in Cumberland. My son and I were at the restaurant to have a bowl of Won-Ton and watch the third period of the Women’s Gold Medal game between Canada and the U.S.A.

The Men’s can had been occupied for some time and after enquiring with the gentleman in there if he was indeed o.k. I realized I wouldn’t be if I didn’t use the washroom soon. I checked the women’s can and figured what the heck –the only other gal in the restaurant at this point was our waitress. Still I got that mysterious transgressing feeling when entering something marked as women’s territory –is there really anything different about the washroom deal? –well no, but the feeling persisted. I really didn’t want to be caught out.

After successfully emerging from the women’s can undedected I settled in with my son to watch the game with Won-Ton soup and Canada Dry Ginger Ale. It was about five o’clock and customers were coming in for take out. The most frequently asked question about the game being played out on the screen  was: “Is this the men or the women?” (that was going to be my line if caught in the bathroom) And the most common statement was “I hope we beat the Americans.”

A couple of us started talking Olympics in the restaurant and one gal proudly pointed out that the Canadian girls were doing far better than the men. I decided to reduce this to a bumper sticker slogan: “Are you telling me Canadian Girls Kick Ass?”

“You bet! Wohooo!”

It seemed terribly important to her this Canadian girl ass kicking thing. It reminded me of that kid so long ago. And of course I began to wonder why do these things –victories, medals, gender and nationalities matter to us –and when?

I know it was important to my Dad that Joe Louis, his idol knock out Max Schmeling the German boxer. As a Jew from the old country my Dad adopted Louis a black from the new country to the south as some sort of symbol of triumph over the terrible Germans.

I know it was of earth shattering importance to me and millions of Canadians that Canada beat the U.S.S.R in the inital summit meeting  –who were these guys?

Like many Canadian kids I was a hockey player with dreams of the NHL. I played for the Avenue Road Boys Club in Toronto and we often would play in tournaments. These tournaments would include American teams and man would they take a beating. As a goalie it would often be a boring game with us winning by a huge margin. I remember one score, 18-2 and telling my Dad after the game that I felt sorry for the American team.

A few years later as a Pee Wee we would go down to St. Clair Shores, Michigan. It was here that I would learn there were many good American hockey players. We had our hands full. This was the mid-seventies and slowly Americans were beginning to enter the NHL. A few years later there would be the Miracle on Ice with the Americans beating the Russians at Lake Placid, N.Y.

Things further began to blur after Mark Howe son of the legendary Gordie Howe actually played for the Americans in International hockey tournaments.

Take a look at the top 10 American born scoring list Mike Modano, Phil Housley, Jeremy Roenick, Joe Mullen (learned how to play hockey on roller blades) Brian Leetch, Pat Lafontaine (yup of St. Clair Shores, Michigan), Keith Tkachuk, Doug Weight and 48 year old Chris Chelios (still playing in the AHL-that’s American Hockey League) and one gets a feel for the depth and breadth of the American presence in the game.

My personal favourite symbol of the globalization of the game is embodied by Scott Gomez a Mexcian-American born in Alaska starring for the Montreal Canadiens’.

Naturally with Canada all set to play the USA tomorrow in the Gold Medal game at the Olympics I began to think of all these things. It is going to be a great game. Sports Crap predicts a 4-3 win in a shoot out. It doesn’t seem to matter to me who wins.

Post Script
I decided to do a little research on Williams.

Williams’ life was marred by personal tragedies that also had a negative impact on his playing career. In November 1970 his wife died suddenly and it was never determined for certain whether her death was due to accident or suicide. Williams, normally a happy-go-lucky free spirit, become moody and fought with North Stars manager Jack Gordon who suspended him before trading him to the Seals. Tragedy struck again after he had retired from hockey, remarried and found a new career when his 23-year-old son Robert (a Boston Bruins prospect) died in 1987. Williams himself died of a heart attack on February 8, 1992, at the age of 51.

Tom this Canadian kid will be thinking of you.

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Responses

  1. thanks for the story

  2. thank you


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