Josh Williams was four years old when he parked himself in front of the television and witnessed the sport of hockey for the first time. Little did he know, it was the start of something life-changing.
The 16-year-old Langley product enters his first season of eligibility this year after garnering some serious attention as a bantam with Yale Hockey Academy. With 35 goals and 24 assists in 25 Canadian Sport School Bantam Hockey League games during his draft year, Williams earned himself a fifth overall selection to the Medicine Hat Tigers in the WHL bantam draft and the title of HockeyNow's B.C. Player of the Year. And with nine points in just four exhibition games entering the regular season, he's been living up to the hype.
"I want to be an every day guy here and make an impact on the team," said Williams, adding going from a promising bantam hockey player to the cover of a magazine as Minor Hockey Player of the Year was a pretty incredible experience. "It's a big honour. There are a lot of great hockey players in B.C. so to be selected was such a huge honour. I've got to give a lot of credit to my teammates though, they've really helped me out so I've got to give a lot of credit to them."
While he remembers that he had to be convinced to remain in hockey at a young age, Williams says it was undoubtedly the right decision. The now 6-foot-1, 185-pound forward fell in love with hockey after immersing himself in the sport and realizing its potential to be used as an outlet.
"At the start of hockey I actually didn't really want to play it, it was more my dad who put me in it and kept me in it and I started to love the game ever since then," said Williams. "Hockey has always been a part of my life. I always loved practices after school. Getting out of school and going to practice always cheered me up."
While he's best known for his offensive abilities, there may be a bit of an agitator in Williams still waiting to come out. The right winger says he spent his younger years watching the Vancouver Canucks and grew to become a big fan of Alex Burrows — though over time his favourite player changed to Steven Stamkos, and with it his favourite team to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"That's why I wore 14 before when I played (with Yale) ... I saw a lot of Canucks growing up, a lot of games," said Williams, who now wears No. 24 with the Tigers as veteran forward Ryan Jevne wears No. 14. "Now my favourite is Steven Stamkos. I've always loved the way he plays and I'm a huge Tampa Bay fan. He's my inspiration right now.”
Williams added there were a number of inspirations and contributors in his development since he first picked up a stick, from his family to his coaches. But he says Yale Hockey Academy taught instilled within him one of the most important lessons for a developing player, hard work pays off.
"Yale is a great program. You learn from the moment you get there that you have to work hard," he said. "We're on the ice every day and working out, you build habits that really help you in junior and then farther into your career."
That lesson will certainly carry on to his career with the Tigers. Surrounded by a group of players known for their work ethic and entering the season on the team's top line alongside James Hamblin and overage captain Mark Rassell, this season could go a long way in placing Williams into the 2019 NHL draft conversation. For now, he's just excited to experience what the WHL and Medicine Hat's Canalta Centre have to offer.
"I've always heard the fans are great here," he said. "It's a really big hockey town so I've been really excited to come play here."
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