RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Justin Williams zipped up and down the ice with the Carolina Hurricanes – just like old times.
For the player known as “Mr. Game 7,” mark down Practice 1 as a success.
Williams went through his first practice with his new teammates – and his old club – Friday when the Hurricanes opened training camp with a sense of optimism that they’re on the cusp of ending the NHL’s longest active playoff drought.
“I don’t think it matters how many training camps you’ve been through,” Williams said. “You’re always a little jittery on the first one. Getting to know the coaches, getting to know the players. It’s all a feeling-out process for me, even though it’s my second time around.”
Williams provided perhaps the biggest moment in franchise history in 2006 with an empty-net goal against Edmonton in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final to seal the first title in club history.
“It doesn’t seem like yesterday,” Williams said, “but it doesn’t seem that far away.”
The Hurricanes haven’t done much after that, with their long postseason appearance since then coming in 2009.
Williams certainly has.
Since he was traded to Los Angeles during the 2008-09 season, he won the Cup twice with the Kings, was selected as playoff MVP in 2014, went 7-1 in Game 7s to earn his nickname and had 100 points combined the past two years with Washington.
“It’s great to see a familiar face, a guy who has a great past here – one of the best Hurricanes to put on the jersey is coming back,” said goalie Cam Ward, the only remaining teammate of Williams’ from that ’06 team.
“He’s `Mr. Game 7′ for a reason,” Ward added. “He comes up big in big games and big moments and I think it’s good to add a guy like that, a veteran, inside our locker room, too. We’re a young team and can tend to be a little bit quiet. Willie’s got a great personality to come in and lead by example.”
The 35-year-old signed a two-year, $9 million deal with Carolina on the first day of free agency.
“That’s why I signed here – I love what they’re doing here,” Williams said.
His signing was a key part of a busy offseason for the Hurricanes, who traded for goalie Scott Darling and signed him to a four-year contract and awarded long-term deals to a pair of young defensemen.
“All you have to do is look at the changes we made this summer,” Ward said. “Kudos to the organization for the moves that they made, and it’s created a buzz, it’s created an excitement among the guys that are here. … We’ve got a lot of skill and a lot of youth. It’s an exciting time to be a Hurricane.”
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