After 48 years, Yellowknife goalie says goodbye to net after surgery

Tom Williams didn’t plan to be a goalie when he first started playing hockey as a child.

But last Saturday night, the Yellowknife man strapped up his goalie pads for the final time after a 48-year stint in net. Williams had hip replacement surgery on Monday morning.

Williams remembered watching an NHL game on TV as a kid and wanting to become a player himself.

He has lived and played all over the North. When the arena in Inuvik, N.W.T., was still under construction, Williams played hockey on the streets and on his friend’s ‘L’ shaped backyard rink nearby.

Williams pictured in 1976 when he played on Team N.W.T. The team won gold at the Arctic Winter Games in Schefferville, Que. (Submitted by Tom Williams)

“You [would] go on a breakaway, stop, and then you had to go the other direction,” he said. “It was fun times.”

In 1972 when he was ten years old, he switched over to goalkeeping after starting out on defence.

At 15 years old, he helped backstop the team that won the last Commercial League championship in Yellowknife.

“The old Gerry Murphy [arena] was packed,” he said. “I can’t recall the score but I’ll remember the pandemonium when we won, because it was the last time to have the Commercial League.”

Williams went on to play junior hockey in Alberta’s Medicine Hat and Drumheller.

‘It’s getting harder and harder’

But the years have taken a toll on his body.

Hockey’s it. And I’m going to miss it.– Tom Williams

Williams has had knee surgery four times in the past six years. And while he said it seems to finally be better, it’s now his hip that can no longer take the strain.

Williams played in Hay River in 1972. He’s the one with the #1 on his blocker. It was his first year playing in net. (Submitted by Tom Williams)

“I tell people to shoot on the right side, not on the left side, that’s the bad hip,” he said jokingly.

He said it hurts at times while playing, but more often the adrenaline keeps him from feeling the pain until after a game.

“It’s getting harder and harder,” he said. It takes two days to recover after a game now, he added.

Family comes to cheer at last game

He won’t be leaving the game forever though. Williams plans to come back as a goal scorer. 

“The love of the game, that’s what it’s all about — and the people in the dressing room. It’s fun,” he said. “It’s a big part of my life and my kids’ life and my grandkids’ life. Hockey’s it. And I’m going to miss it.”

Williams had hip replacement surgery on Monday. (Submitted by Tom Williams)

Williams is also considering coaching since his grandchildren are getting older and more competitive in the game.

“Maybe [I] will have to put on the skates and be a coach and grab a whistle,” he said.

During his last game as goalie on Saturday, his family came out to cheer him on.

His daughter, Aurora Kotokak, said her father attends the games she plays in the women’s league and watching her kids’ games.

Williams as goalie on Saturday before his surgery. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

“He’s really passionate about it,” she said. “Especially when the kids were smaller, he would play hockey with them in the living room. He loved to pass on his knowledge.”

Kotokak said she started as a goalie as a kid when her dad coached her, then moved to a defence role.

Williams’s family on Saturday night when he played his last game as a goalie before hip surgery. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

Williams said he’ll be passing on his goalie gear to his daughter’s two-year-old son who said he wants to become a goalie one day.

“This will be it,” Williams said, just before his last game on the weekend ahead of his surgery. “But I’m coming back, look out.”