Wil­liams em­braces lead­er­ship role in re­turn to Carolina.

The Western Star - - Sports - BY JOEDY MCCREARY

The Carolina Hur­ri­canes didn’t bring back Justin Wil­liams to be “Mr. Game 7.” Not yet, any­way.

The 35-year-old with the rep­u­ta­tion for scor­ing big post­sea­son goals has re­turned to Raleigh, tasked with bring­ing vet­eran lead­er­ship and a voice of ex­pe­ri­ence to a young Carolina team.

But there’s a fine line be­tween fill­ing that type of role for the Hur­ri­canes, and com­mand­ing con­trol of the dress­ing room. He brushed aside ques­tions about whether he should wear the “C” for a team that has gone without a cap­tain since Fe­bru­ary 2016.

“I think the worst thing you can do when you come into a new — even though it’s a team I’ve been on, it’s a new team for me — is try­ing to be some­one you’re not,” Wil­liams said Mon­day. “That’s a big mis­take, try­ing to be ‘the guy.’ You just want to be your­self, and that’s what I’ve done through­out my ca­reer.”

Wil­liams re­turned to Carolina ear­lier this month, open­ing free agency by agree­ing to a two-year deal worth $9 mil­lion to bring his deft of­fen­sive touch and knack for com­ing through in key sit­u­a­tions to a team that has made the play­offs only once (2009) since Wil­liams hoisted the Stan­ley Cup for the first time here in 2006.

The 2014 play­off MVP with Los An­ge­les had 100 points com­bined the past two years with Wash­ing­ton, and won the Cup twice with the Kings while earn­ing his “Mr. Game 7” nick­name for his 7-1 ca­reer record in those de­ci­sive post-sea­son games.

The only player re­main­ing from Wil­liams’ first stint with Carolina is pre­sump­tive backup goalie Cam Ward. The cap­tain of those Hur­ri­canes teams, Rod Brind’Amour, is now an as­sis­tant coach.

“I don’t think the load’s on me to do any­thing,” Wil­liams said. “I’m here ... to be me. And I think (gen­eral man­ager Ron Fran­cis) and his group have done an ex­cel­lent job of gath­er­ing this team. Lis­ten, a lot of these kids or team­mates weren’t here six, seven years ago. They’re fresh, too, and they’ve had a lot of suc­cess at dif­fer­ent lev­els . ... You just want to help guide as best you can, be­cause you know what it takes, and you know what works and what doesn’t, a lot of the time.”

Wil­liams had a lengthy list of rea­sons to come back to Carolina, from the qual­ity of life away from the rink — he and his wife bought a house in nearby Cary in May, two months be­fore the start of free agency — to what he says is a team “on the rise.” He says the Hur­ri­canes kicked “my team’s butts a cou­ple of times.”

“When you tell peo­ple out­side the hockey world that you’re go­ing to Carolina, they might be like, ‘Oh, man, why?”’ he said. “But I think when you look and you talk to peo­ple within the hockey cir­cles — you talk to NHL play­ers — they know ex­actly what I’m talk­ing about. It’s a fun time, I think, to be a Carolina Hur­ri­cane, and I want to be part of some­thing good. I’ve been on some suc­cess­ful teams, so I’m go­ing to try to do the same, do my best to make sure that hap­pens.”


In this March 25 file photo, then-Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals right wing Justin Wil­liams waits for a face-off dur­ing an NHL game against the Ari­zona Coy­otes in Wash­ing­ton.

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