EVERETT — Dennis Williams’ answer to my first question was not what I was expecting.
The Everett Silvertips held their news conference introducing Williams as their new head coach Monday afternoon, and when I arrived at the Edward D. Hansen Conference Center I came with one main purpose: to find out what style of hockey Williams planned to install with the Tips.
— Nick Patterson (@NickHPatterson) May 22, 2017
After all, playing style is central to regime change in Everett. The main hockey justification for not renewing previous head coach Kevin Constantine’s contract was the team’s style. Constantine’s teams were enormously successful in the regular season during the four seasons of his second stint in charge of the club, going 164-85-24-15 and winning two U.S. Division championships. But the Tips were never much of an offensive force, finishing below the league average in scoring in three of the four seasons.
That conflicted with general manager Garry Davidson’s vision for the team. Davidson was hired in 2012 from the Portland Winterhawks organization, which at the time was the WHL’s version of the 1980s Edmonton Oilers. From the moment he arrived in Everett, Davidson expressed his desire to turn the Tips into an offense-oriented organization. Therefore, I was fully expecting Williams to speak from the offensive school, ready to proclaim the new dawn of flashing red lamps in Everett.
So the first question I posed Williams was, “What style of hockey do you espouse?”
In his answer Williams described a multitude of traits he wanted to instill in the team. He spoke of being able to skate and play at a high tempo. He used standard hockey terms such as “compete,” “truculent,” and “battle.” He said, “All I want my players to do is play the game honest.”
Then about 1 minute, 10 seconds into his answer he finally mentioned, “we like to score goals.”
Perhaps the coaching change isn’t going to create the immediate hockey revolution some were expecting.
Williams spent the past three seasons coaching the Bloomington Thunder of the United States Hockey League, a junior league that is the U.S.-based equivalent of the Canadian Hockey League of which the WHL is part. Therefore, Williams had been coaching players the same age as the ones he’ll be coaching in Everett, meaning a reasonable comparison can be made.
The past four seasons under Constantine the Tips averaged 3.02 goals per game. The past three seasons under Williams the Thunder averaged 2.77.
Now, one has to adjust those numbers for their leagues, as the USHL has been a lower-scoring league than the WHL. When making those adjustments Williams’ Thunder scored at 93 percent of the league average while Constantine’s Tips scored at 90.7 percent. So Williams’ teams were a little higher scoring relative to their league, but the two were in the same ballpark.
Therefore, it was perhaps wise that Williams didn’t come in with all the rhetorical offensive guns blazing.
I followed up by asking Williams where goal scoring ranked in importance for him. His answer: “It’s always up there. As a player that’s the fun part. Part of the game is obviously playing good defense and blocking pucks. I don’t know if there’s fun in taking a shot off the ankle. But the time you can put the puck in the opponent’s net and you celebrate in that group of five and go down that bench, that’s what it’s always about.”
Ah, that sounds more like what we’ve heard from Davidson in the past.
Davidson had a chance to see a Williams-coached team first-hand when he spent a weekend watching Bloomington in 2015-16. What he saw was a team that worked hard, much like the Constantine-coached teams in Everett. But he also saw a coach that worked diligently with his players in practice on skill development, and he saw a team that was more committed to an up-tempo game.
“I think we’re going to see much more of a transition type of game moving from defense to offense,” Davidson said. “I call it north-south hockey as opposed to east-west. Everything we’ve done in the past here, the way our guys were coached, it was more of a controlled and calculated sort of thing. I think we have to get away from that. We have to give our players the ability to play with a little more creativity.
“(Williams] is really embracing the game the way it’s played today and the way things are changing. If you watch the NHL today it’s so fast and the tempo is unbelievable to watch. I think he’s going to bring that to the table when he gets our guys in here and starts working with them.”
Will that mean more goals? That remains to be seen, and the track record doesn’t suggest it’s a slam dunk. But now at least it seems the Tips have a general manager and coach working from the same page.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.