By Andy Kent
Copyright © 2005 Naples Daily News
TRENTON, N.J. – No more wearing headsets and performing color commentary on the radio for Trenton Titans veteran defenseman Vince Williams – he’ll just have to do his commentating either from the Titans bench or somewhere else.
The 29-year-old former Florida Everblade has been cleared by team doctors to play just in time for Friday’s pivotal Game 3 of the ECHL’s best-of-seven Kelly Cup Finals between Trenton and Florida.
But Williams, who has been out since March 3 with an ankle injury, won’t be on the ice when the puck drops at 7:30 at the Sovereign Bank Arena because Titans head coach Mike Haviland doesn’t see a need to change his lineup. After all, the Titans are ahead 2-0 in the series with the next three games at home.
“That’s obviously the coach’s call,” said Williams after Thursday’s practice in which he participated in all the drills without a non-contact jersey on. “I haven’t played in three months and guys have been doing a great job here. Whatever I can do to be part of it I’ve been doing by supporting the young guys, and at least now they know if they need me I’ll be ready.”
It’s that team-first approach that has made Williams one of the most important people in the dressing room not only for the Titans, but for every team he has played for. Titans rookie defenseman Stephen Wood described the role Williams has taken on as “almost a coaching role.”
Even when he was with Florida from 2001-03, Williams made an immediate impact in the dressing room and on the bench. He won the last Turner Cup, awarded to the champion of the International Hockey League, with the Orlando Solar Bears in 2000-01 after playing the majority of season in Trenton, and carried that confidence with him to Estero.
Vince “was a very vocal guy in the locker room and he was a leader,” Everblades forward Brent McDonald recalled. “He’s the type of guy that, he’s been in the league and been around a while, he’s a very experienced guy and he knows how to win. So even though he’s not out there playing right now, I’m sure with his experience and what he’s gone through as a player he’s helping this team.”
McDonald, Reggie Berg and Keith Anderson are the only three remaining players from those two seasons Williams was in an Everblades sweater, so he doesn’t view the matchup as that big of a deal.
Actually, Williams pointed out that he’s played more against Everblades forward Brad Church recently than any of his other former teammates. Church played for Reading last year and Richmond the year before, so he was in the same division or conference as Williams.
Titans veteran forward Rick Kowalsky, who was pursued by the Everblades last summer, is the cagey older guy in the dressing room at the age of 33 and is the primary leader. This is his second stint in Trenton (2000-01) and he had Williams as a teammate then, too, to count on for assistance.
“We do have a fairly young team and, next to myself, Vinny’s got the most years played pro,” Kowalsky said. “He’s a great team guy and he’s a natural leader who has from day one been in here physically working on getting back with the possibility of never coming back. And that’s an inspiration to all the young guys alone.”
Williams is not a goal scorer, but more of a stay-at-home defenseman who does a good job of protecting his goaltender and his end of the ice. He’s a disciplined player who fell upon hard luck with injuries in 2002 with the Blades and again this year.
In 2002-03, he broke his wrist just 12 games into the season and worked hard to get back in the lineup only to find himself traded back to Trenton just as he was ready to come off the injure reserve. He wasn’t too happy about that move, but he doesn’t hold any ill will toward the organization.
“The playoff drive we had in 2002 that ended in Greenville still is one of my fondest memories because of how we came together as a team despite not being the most skilled bunch,” Williams said. “We had a lunch pail-type team and I really think if we had got past Greenville we would have made a run. But we lost in a decisive Game 5 after having a 3-1 lead with five minutes left. The guy who scored their game-winner (Simon Gamache) is playing in the NHL now so we can’t feel too bad.”
Williams drew upon his experience in 2002-03 to help him get through this injury, another one he called “freak in nature,” because of the way it happened. He was standing to the side of the net and another player fell on his leg just below the knee. His foot stayed planted and his ankle turned. He had to get two screws inserted between the fibula and tibula to keep it stable.
When he broke his wrist with the Everblades, he was skating along the boards and took a slash on the wrist that fractured it in two places. This time, he knew not to get frustrated and waited until he felt 100 percent, which meant having fun on the radio and staying positive around his teammates.
“Vince is champing at the bit to get in there against his old team and he’s been a leader for us the whole year,” Haviland said. “I know he wants to show everybody he can do it, but I also know he’ll continue to stay upbeat and keep the guys upbeat. I said no lineup change for (today), but I didn’t say anything about Saturday.”