Justin Williams’ Conn Smythe award a long time coming
LOS ANGELES — Justin Williams has a flair for the dramatic.
The flowing curly hair, the beard that might have been the best on the team and an epic nickname: Mr. Game 7.
But the nickname, one he demurs and his teammates chide, was effectively shed Friday night at Staples Center. His new nickname? Mr. Conn Smythe.
After leading all scorers in the Stanley Cup Final and coming through for the Los Angeles Kings in so many games throughout one of the longest postseasons in NHL history, the right winger was named the most valuable player, after being voted so by the Professional Hockey Writers Association. In his third career Stanley Cup win, he hoisted not one, but two trophies.
Finally, the ultimate team guy was recognized for his immense contributions to the team.
"To get that award and to get the ovation that I got from my teammates was pretty special and emotional for me," he said, with his son Jaxon by his side. "I can’t believe I won that. That will, I don’t think, ever, ever sink in. The guy from Cobourg (Ontario, Canada) who played the game he loves and got to be surrounded with a lot of great teammates throughout my years."
But if you ask his teammates, it was a long time coming.
Following the Kings’ Game 7 win in Chicago, defenseman Drew Doughty was asked what made Williams so successful in Game 7 situations. Doughty said he was like that every game, emphasizing just how hard his teammate works every day. His name might not always be on the box score, but he’s influential on the ice and off, and Doughty wanted everyone to know that he was much more than just Mr. Game 7.
"Justin Williams is an unbelievable hockey player," said defenseman Alec Martinez. "He’s been around for so long. He’s such a great leader in the room. He can do a lot of special things with the puck. He seems like he’s always got the puck on a string.
"Obviously you guys have quoted him, Mr. Game 7, I think I’ve called him that a couple times too, but I couldn’t be happier for him. He’s a clutch player, he’s a big-time player, he makes big plays in big games."
"Stick" as he’s often called, isn’t the biggest or strongest player on the team. He’s not the most physical and he’s not the fastest. But he might be one of the toughest.
"He’s done so many good things in his career and Mr. Game 7, yeah, but the way you watch him tonight and he scores the first goal, he shows up in big games and that’s what you need," said rookie winger Tanner Pearson. "Good for Stick, because he’s deserving of it."
Williams might have his name etched on a trophy, yet it’s not exactly on the billboards around town. But he fits right into the Kings’ marketing campaign, "We Are All Kings." He’s the everyman player that works much harder than most will ever know. He’s exactly the type of player that good teams have and that smart general managers deal for.
But it didn’t always seem that way. He was known as a rebel player and before coming to Los Angeles, best-known for detaching Saku Koivu’s retina. Kings general manager Dean Lombardi was still in the early stages of building this Kings club into what it is now but he saw something in Williams.
"Dean Lombardi has given me a great opportunity here," Williams said. "He saw somebody, a player that not a lot of people saw. He gave me a chance, he gave me another opportunity, where my career wasn’t going the way I wanted it to. I was able to be a piece of this puzzle, the team that he built. I’m privileged to play on this team with all the great players."
Williams thinks that any other guy on the team could have won it, and there were great cases made for Doughty, Marian Gaborik and Anze Kopitar. But he does have the credentials: He tallied 25 points in 26 playoff games, earning a point in 16 of them and remained undefeated in Game 7s with possibly the most impressive Game 7 resume (seven goals, seven assists in his career).
He might have done it so quietly, but there’s a new piece of hardware in the Williams household that now loudly proclaims the type of player he is.
"Up and down our lineup: You can make a case for any line, any D pair. That’s not just blowing smoke, that’s the God’s honest truth," he said. "To be singled out like that, have my teammates give me an applause, be genuinely excited for me, that was the most special thing."