Solar Bears tap former player as coach

ORLANDO, FLA. – When Vince Williams brought his Trenton Titans team to Orlando and the Amway Center in February, it was something of a homecoming. Little did he know that just over four months later, he would be returning to stay.

Vince Williams was hired Wednesday by Orlando (photo courtesy of Orlando Solar Bears

Vince Williams was hired Wednesday by Orlando (photo courtesy of Orlando Solar Bears

Wednesday afternoon, Williams was announced as the new head coach of the ECHL Orlando Solar Bears, replacing Drake Berehowsky who took the head coaching position with the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes less than two weeks ago. The news of the coaching hire came minutes before the ECHL released its 2013-2014 schedule, giving the Solar Bears fans plenty to talk about heading into the summer.

“I am extremely proud to join the Orlando Solar Bears organization,” Williams said in a press release issued by the team. “This is a first class organization that is committed to winning and developing its players.”

The hiring carried with it plenty of message and irony. Williams played for the IHL incarnation of the Solar Bears during the team’s 2000-2001 run to the Turner Cup championship. As it turned out, it was Williams and the Titans who were at the Amway Center on February when the new Solar Bears unveiled the IHL title banner that their predecessors didn’t get the chance to.

It was also a way for the ownership group to show the fans it means business when it comes to bringing a Kelly Cup to the City Beautiful.

“We are committed to giving Williams the resources he needs to make the Solar Bears a Kelly Cup contender,” Solar Bears Managing partner and Chairman Joe Haleski said.

Williams’ professional playing careen spanned 8 seasons with 461 games in the ECHL. In 2000-2001 he was with Trenton when Orlando, in need of a defenseman, called late in the season. He joined the Solar Bears for four regular season games and stayed around as a reserve player during the playoffs. Williams would later be a part of another championship as a member of the 2004-2005 Kelly Cup winning team in Trenton where he played for Mike Havilland (who was named head coach of the Hershey Bears earlier in the week). He was the Titans team captain during the 2003-2004 and 2005-2006 seasons and later inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame.

Williams began his coaching career in 2006 in Trenton serving five seasons as an assistant for the Devils. He studied under the guidance of Rick Kowalsky and later Kevin Dean (now an assistant coach with the Providence Bruins). In two seasons as the head coach of the newest version of the Titans, 41 of Williams’ players have gotten the call from the AHL. Two of those players, Jason Akeson and Matt Konan, also spent time in the NHL. Over his two years as the bench boss, Williams compiled a record of 53-73-0-18 that showed improvement with a .500 season (32-32-0-8) in 2012-2013.

Solar Bears C.E.O. and President Jason Siegel, who worked for the New Jersey Devils during Williams’ time in Trenton, said that many people were impressed with the way Williams had evolved from a player into a coach.

“Vince is an individual we have watched over the years as he transitioned from player to coach,” Siegel said. “His teams have always been disciplined and well-prepared. He is an experienced recruiter and has worked closely in developing his coaching skills with two premier NHL organizations, the New Jersey Devils and the Philadelphia Flyers, and was highly recommended by both.”

When the Titans suspended operations, it allowed Williams to put his coaching experience and ECHL knowledge on the open market. It was an opportunity the Solar Bears couldn’t pass up.

“We were fortunate to have been able to recruit a coach with a long history and understanding of how the ECHL operates,” Bob Ohrablo, Solar Bears C.O.O. and Managing Partner, said. “His knowledge of the league should prove to be a very valuable asset.”

News of Williams’ hiring was met with praise from Orlando’s affiliates in Minnesota and Iowa.

“The Wild are excited by the choice and endorse the Solar Bears selection of Vince Williams as Head Coach,” Minnesota Wild’s Assistant to the General Manager and Iowa Wild General manager Jim Mill said. “He has a long history of developing ECHL players for his affiliated teams and we are looking forward to working with him.”

The best endorsement may have come from the organization that know Williams and his work the best.

“We were fortunate to have Vince Williams as a member of our coaching staff in Trenton for five seasons,” New Jersey Devils Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations Chris Lamoriello said. “His work ethic, competitiveness and overall hockey sense were instrumental in the development of some of our younger prospects. I think that he is a great addition to the Orlando Solar Bears organization.”

According to the Solar Bears, Williams will be introduced to the media and season ticket holders at an event next month.

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