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Tiger Williams: Just a little bit late

Dave "Tiger" Williams joined the Leafs mid-way through the 1974-’75 season. A second round draft choice out of Swift Current, he earned his spot after playing the first half of his rookie season in the Central Hockey League with Oklahoma City.

Williams had a tough guy reputation (over 300 penalty minutes in his final year of junior hockey) and played to it. He was a fighter, and would drop the gloves with the biggest and toughest NHL players, though he wasn’t a huge man himself, at 5’ 11’’ and 190 pounds.

If you saw Tiger play, you know he wasn’t a particularly graceful or fast skater, but he got where he needed to go, mucked it up in the corners and did the dirty work most guys were reluctant – or couldn’t – do.

I had the opportunity to interview Dave twice in my time as a young broadcaster, as the timing of our respective careers conveniently overlapped.

Late in the summer of 1976 I had set up an interview with him, around training camp time. He was about to embark on his first full season with the Leafs, a team in transition with Dave Keon and Norm Ullman gone and Darryl Sittler the new team captain and leader.

Unfortunately, Tiger apparently forgot the interview, which normally wouldn’t have been a huge problem except for the fact that the show I was hosting at the time was live, and I had set aside probably 30 minutes for the interview with Tiger. So I had a lot of unexpected ‘air time’ to fill. (One of the challenges of that particular show was that I hosted it in the middle of a shopping mall at the station’s satellite location. Guests would arrive as I was still on air. There was no “green room” where guests could wait their turn. I would be chatting away while keeping an eye out for the scheduled guest to appear. During a 60-second break we would have them grab a seat, mike them, say hi and start the interview.)

So I filled the time somehow, and just after my show was over that night, Tiger came flying into the broadcast area where we did the program. His bushy hair was flying and he came running up, apologetic that he had forgotten about the planned interview until it was too late. He said the cops were probably chasing him, he had driven so fast to get there, albeit late.

So we set it up again for the following week, and this time Tiger showed up on time. I enjoyed our chat. We were both in our early 20’s, I was maybe a year older than Tiger. We went out for a beer at a restaurant inside the mall when the show was over.

I also connected with Dave in May of 1982, a couple of season after he and Jerry Butler had been traded to Vancouver for Bill Derlago and Rick Vaive.

That season, the Canucks had one of those magical runs that teams sometime have in the playoffs. They weren’t much during the regular season but the playoffs were a different story. Coach Harry Neale had been suspended by the league, so assistant Roger Neilson took over as the interim Head Coach and led the Canucks to the finals. They ultimately lost in four straight to the powerful Islanders, though goalie Richard Brodeur, "King Richard", became a Canuck hero for his outstanding play that memorable spring. It was the first time the Canucks had ever been to the finals to that point in their short NHL history.

Both times I chatted with Tiger, he was pretty much what he has always seemed: Refreshingly candid, opinionated, and confident. If he didn’t like the question that was asked, he had a way of making his point without overtly lashing out at me.

Williams was one of those individuals who always looked after his money and planned for the future. Even sitting in the restaurant with him when he was all of 22 years of age, you could tell he was a fellow who knew where he wanted to go. He loved the West and wanted to learn about industry, the business world.

Tiger played out his career with the Kings and finished up in Hartford, playing more than 1,000 NHL regular season and playoff games in all, scoring more than 250 goals.

In retirement he has been, predictably, successful in his business ventures. A straight-ahead skater in hockey, a straight-shooter in life.

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