By Len Bardsley
© 2005 The Times of Trenton
Vince Williams has not played a game for the Titans since Feb. 27, but he was pretty valuable during the 48 hours leading up to Game 7 of the National Conference finals against the Aces Monday.
The veteran defenseman always has been one of the Titans’ vocal leaders on and off the ice, and even though he still is recovering from a serious ankle injury, Titans coach Mike Haviland knew Williams’ presence would be important during the team’s final trip to Anchorage.
It was moments after the Titans’ Game 6 overtime loss on Friday and the realization that Game 7 was not until Monday that Williams was there with encouraging words to the Titans’ younger players, reminding them of the opportunity at hand.
“There are times when guys need to be picked up a bit after a loss,” said Williams. “We still have four rookies on the blue line. It is just casual stuff, walking back to the hotel, telling some of the guys don’t be scared of being successful. Challenge yourself.”
Williams has not been to an ECHL conference finals since the Titans’ first season, 1999-2000, when they lost to the Peoria Rivermen. The following season, when the Titans advanced to the Kelly Cup Finals, Williams signed with the Orlando Solar Bears of the International Hockey League in March just before the Titans started their run league finals.
The 29-year-old from Ottawa is anxious to help in any way possible.
“It is tough (just watching),” said Williams. “My bread and butter is playoff hockey. I have been on successful teams that have gone far in the playoffs. You want to contribute something and make sure you are still part of it. (Haviland) has done a great job of keeping us involved.”
Williams has made both trips to Anchorage with the Titans, a total of 18,000 miles of flying and over two full days of travel time knowing he could not play a single minute, so he won’t hesitate to give his teammates a push when needed.
“Some of the younger guys are looking for answers (after Game 6),” said Williams. “We talked about how we respond after a loss, how when we come out and skate hard for three periods we dominated them. Just remind the guys of the common goal. We can’t accept the fact we made it this far. You have to push past that mental hump, tell them how everyone wants a winner and it will help you now and in the long term.”
Williams has been skating for a week, testing his ankle, hoping he could be available if needed if the Titans make it to the Kelly Cup Finals against the Florida Everblades.
“I am starting to pick up the intensity,” said Williams. “Every day gets better and better. I am finding mentally I can push it a little more. It is my obligation to get healthy as fast as I can. You never know what can happen in the next two or three weeks. You have to be ready to be called upon. You don’t want to cheat yourself or your teammates.”
Williams has extra motivation to be in game shape for the finals since he spent all of the 2001-02 season with the Everblades before being traded back to the Titans after playing 12 games with the Everblades during the 2002-03 season.
“Even better,” said Williams of the possibility of the Titans advancing and facing the Everblades. “They are one of the better organizations in the league. They do a pretty good job. It (Germain Arena) is pretty much like Sovereign Bank (Arena), it is a real nice arena. Hopefully I am healthy enough to contribute and get on the ice.”