By: Angelina Berube
Like life, hockey is a game of bad bounces, a little luck and making the most of anything thrown at you. Charles Williams, Manchester Monarchs goaltender from Canton, Michigan, knows this all too well. The 26-year-old rookie learned to make the most of unfortunate situations in his college career to get him to the professional level, which started in his early days of learning the sport.
Williams got a late start into hockey, moving from Detroit to Canton around 13 years old, everyone in his new surroundings, from neighbors to friends were playing pick-up hockey outside. He started with roller hockey before transitioning to ice hockey. In his early days, Williams played forward along with his brother on the same team. An early desire to win led him to finding his position.
“My brother and I would both put up a lot of goals, but we’d still lose because our goalie wasn’t the best,” Williams said. “So what we did was my brother would stay out and play forward and he’d try to score on me. I’d stop him. It worked and I fell in love with the position.”
He loved everything about the position, even putting on the equipment. Williams said he believed his team went on to win that season and the rest was history.
Now thinking about college, the late bloomer looked at his options to continue playing the sport he loved while getting an education. With a college career in mind, Williams set out for US junior hockey. His family’s focus was always on school and the goaltender knew that a path in the USHL and NAHL would help him get noticed by colleges so he could earn a degree.
“A big part of growing up was making sure I was always focused on my studies and education and knowing that the student came first and then the athlete,” Williams said. “Putting a strong emphasis on that, I wanted to have that background. Hockey is a funny sport and it doesn’t always work out the way you want. I wanted to make sure I had something to fall back on.”
He began his junior career with the USHL Des Moines Buccaneers for the 2009-10 season. In his first season, he played in 26 games, posting a 8-13-2 record with a 0.866 save percentage and a 4.04 goals against average. His first time away from home, Williams had to adjust to training and workouts. A multisport athlete, hockey was played for fun until he reached juniors and his eyes were opened to how he needed to train off the ice.
“I didn’t actually know how much you had to put into it outside of the rink, like training, goalie coaching, workouts and stretching,” Williams said. “I was a young kid playing a lot of sports. I was just having fun, enjoying the game. At the junior level, I started to realize what went into growing and developing your game.”
The next season, Williams switched to the NAHL for 44 games with the Owatonna Express and posted a winning record of 27-10-6. Both his GAA and save percentage saw improvements as he began to find his game. With his growing confidence in net, Ferris State University reached out to the goaltender. As Williams noted, the Ferris’ program was starting to take shape and gained national recognition with tournament play while he was in his third year of junior hockey. Because the college started looking at Williams before his successful last year with the USHL’s Lincoln Stars, he felt comfortable pursuing talks to play for them.
“I had a good connection knowing that they always looked at me and knew who I was,” Williams said. “They knew what they were getting and I felt comfortable with that.”
Williams began his collegiate career at Ferris for the 2012-13 season. He came in behind sophomore goalie, C.J. Motte, who as Williams said, “had an unreal year with great numbers.” As a freshman, Williams appeared in four games, with a 1-1 record and 3.33 goals against average. Hoping for a fresh start his sophomore year, he found himself in a similar situation, back-up to Motte who was a Hobey Baker Finalist that year. He appeared in five games with a 1.44 GAA his sophomore season.
“I thought I was going to get opportunities where I’d compete for the start, but for some reason I didn’t get them,” Williams said. “So again went another year and then I got hurt. I tore my Achilles tendon after my sophomore year and my career changed.”
In what would have been his third year, Williams found himself recovering from an Achilles injury. He sat out the entire season and after nine months finally got back on the ice.
“It took a while for me to get back into my same self and emotions were high,” Williams said. “I didn’t play one game that entire year. The next year I was supposed to be a starter and it just wasn’t the same. I felt different.”
In his return for his final year, again, the senior found himself playing catch-up while the freshman goalie got the start in net. Williams played in 11 games with a 3-5-1 record and 3.44 GAA. His career at Ferris didn’t go as planned, but his injury opened doors for one last shot.
Although the injury couldn’t have come at a worse time in the middle of his college career with months of recovery, it was a blessing in disguise for Williams. Not playing one game his “junior” year gave him an extra year of eligibility. After Williams graduated from Ferris with his undergraduate, he transferred to Canisius College for his masters where he was given a second chance as a fifth year player.
“That year still feels like a dream,” Williams said. “I think people had forgotten about me, but I was still working. Behind closed doors, I was doing a lot and enjoying every minute of it, not knowing what was to come.
“I knew that I fell off, but still had game left in me and had to be put in the right spot,” Williams said. “I had to get lucky and I did.”
At Canisius, Williams put up his best numbers of his collegiate career with a winning record of 21-7-5. He recorded a 0.943 save percentage with a 1.82 GAA, and being the student he and his family always strived for, he was taking an internship for his Master’s program. His restart at his new college gave him the chance to be the starting goaltender he aimed to be before his injury, with a team he felt welcomed with open arms.
When his Canisius season ended, Williams joined the Monarchs for the end of the 2016-17 regular season. He got his taste of the pro game with three starts and three wins, showing what his value could be as a rookie.
“I learned I could play in this league and develop my game,” Williams said. “I wanted to come back here and see what I could do. I knew the coaches had confidence in me. College didn’t go the way I wanted it to, but I wanted to show why I could make it. This level is an accomplishment in itself. I didn’t want to stop playing.”
Williams returned to the Monarchs for his rookie season this past year and he proved his worth in net, with a winning record of 22-12-3-2 to go along with a 2.68 GAA. Williams also appeared in two games in the American Hockey League for the Hartford Wolfpack. This season, he tried to keep a level-head throughout the season, taking games “one minute at a time,” to not let a bad goal or a strong lead get in the way of his focus. Williams knows his path to the ECHL and AHL has hit speed bumps along the way and is thankful of how far he’s made it.
“I want to show that I’m definitely not taking anything for granted,” Williams said. “At this level, every game is an opportunity to have fun, enjoy it and show why I’m here.”
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