It was a game in Eric Williams’ rookie season which really caught the eye of the Spokane Chiefs.
“The game I remember seeing specifically was a game in Chilliwack … and he had a sensational game that night,” shared Tim Speltz, the Chiefs general manager.
“I think from there, it put him on our radar as a guy we were interested in.”
Williams played the first season and a half of his Western Hockey League career with the Prince Albert Raiders, the team which had selected him out of the Langley Minor Hockey Association in the fourth round (71st overall) of the 2008 bantam draft.
In the 2010/11 season, his first season in the WHL, Williams went 17-17-2 with a 3.71 goals against average and a .898 save percentage.
And the following year, his numbers were about the same as Williams posted a 3.86 GAA and a a.884 save percentage while going 8-15-3.
But the Raiders found him expendable and Speltz snapped him up in a four-player trade between the two clubs.
“That was the year they thought they had ample goaltending and we had a piece they needed, so we made the trade,” Speltz said.
Williams played 18 games over the second half of that 2011/12 season, going 8-6-3 with a 3.66 average and a .868 save percentage. And last year, the numbers improved with a 32-19-2 record and a 3.14 average and .897 save percentage. He also had four shutouts after posting just one apiece in each of his first two seasons.
And now this season, the 20-year-old’s final season of junior eligibility? His numbers are among the best in the league.
Williams was in goal on Friday night as the Chiefs defeated the Vancouver Giants 6-4 at the Pacific Coliseum.
The win improved his record to 10-4-0-0 with a 2.20 goals against average and a .921 save percentage. Those stats rank him first and fourth, respectively, among WHL goaltenders.
Speltz said that Williams’ earlier numbers may have been a bit misleading.
“You always expect a player as he gets older or mature to get more consistent,” Speltz said.
“Eric had shown flashes of that in the past but this year, he has been able to bring it together and so far has been outstanding.
“He has evolved and with his maturity now, he understands the importance of hard work. He is better prepared to handle strings of games.
“He has really solidified our team with his goaltending ability.”
For his part, Williams said his solid start to the season has all to do with the work he put in over the summer, back home in Langley.
“I think it is just a lot of the work (I did) in the off-season, a lot of time in the weight room and with my goalie coach to get ready for my last season in the WHL,” Williams explained.
Like he has done for the past couple of summers, Williams worked with goalie coach Angelo Maggio of Langley’s Magic Hockey, as well as working out with Peter Glover and the Surrey-based Trainhardplayhard Athletics.
And Williams says having a work ethic is the biggest piece of advice he would give other teenage hockey players getting ready to embark on their WHL careers.
“As much as you are there to have fun, it is a job and you have to work at it,” he said. “Put in the time in the summer and during the season.”
As for his on-ice success, Williams says he isn’t too surprised, especially since he has such a solid team in front of him.
“We have a good team in front of me, so that definitely helps,” he said.
The Chiefs sit fourth in the Western Conference with a record of 12-6-0-0.
“It is definitely a lot of hard work, but hopefully we can keep it going,” he said.
“Hopefully we can make something count here in my last year.”
“It is a long season and road to get (to the playoffs) but once you do, that is where you make a name for yourself as a team,” Williams added.
“Everybody liked a winner so the farther you go in the playoffs, the better chances you have of moving forward and getting noticed by the hockey world.”
And with his junior days set to finish at the end of the season, Williams is keeping an eye on what his post-WHL options may be.
The 2011 graduate of Walnut Grove Secondary is eyeing either playing at the university level or turning pro.
“Obviously the big picture is to set something up for the future,” he said. “But I can’t look forward to that too much.”
Speltz anticipates Williams continuing in the sport.
“I think he really does have pro potential (and) I think this year will dictate his opportunity,” he said.