ORLANDO, Fla. – By his own admission, Vince Williams had grown very fond of Trenton, New Jersey. It was only natural since he had spent all or part of thirteen of the last fourteen years of his hockey life between playing and coaching there. It all came to an end in April when the Trenton Titans closed their doors, leaving Williams without a job and forcing him to start all over.
That new beginning started on Monday when he stood in front of cameras, reporters and fans as Williams was formally introduced as the new head coach of the Orlando Solar Bears. It was his first chance to talk about both leaving Trenton and the challenges he will face in building the Solar Bears.
“This is a new chapter for myself and my family to be able to come down here and have a fresh start,” Williams said about taking the Orlando job. “The way that I’ve been treated through the interview process up until this point has been nothing but first class. It’s a great ownership group and management team here and a great organization.”
To be fair, Williams’ two years as the head coach of the Titans did not come under the best of circumstances. The 2011-2012 campaign started as a rush job as the New Jersey Devils closed the doors of the then-Trenton Devils and in late July of 2011 a new ownership group took over and brought the Titans back to life. Williams was named head coach on August 1st, giving him just over two months to create a roster.
Financial issues swirled around the team throughout the 2012-2013 season but Williams, with a roster to build around, turned the on-ice fortunes around. The Titans ended up 32-32-0-8, a marked improvement over the 21-41-0-10 from the previous year. Through it all, Williams was able to learn how to be a better coach and a teacher as 41 players saw time in the AHL in the two seasons. Taking it a step further, two of those players – Jason Akeson and Matt Konan – made their debuts in the NHL.
“Everything that I do is to make myself a better coach and a better person out of it and I said the same thing to my players. We really tried to manage and maintain a high level of professionalism within the locker room. I thought it was important for the players and the staff to be able to do that,” he said. “I thought we had a lot to be proud of as far as accomplishments as far as 25 players got called up to the AHL, two of which played in the NHL. To be able to have guys come through your dressing room and have an opportunity to play their first NHL game is special.”
Another aspect of his time in Trenton that Williams attributes as vital to his growth was the affiliations. During his time there, Williams had the chance to get to know and work with staff from both the Devils and later the Philadelphia Flyers and said that it gave him valuable knowledge that he can use going forward.
“I was very fortunate to be able to learn a lot from some really good coaches and people that helped
me prepare for this. Obviously working with the Devils organization and being close to those guys and then obviously with Philadelphia the last two years and really having the opportunity to work with those guys, you really get a gauge on the reality of the hockey business and pro sports period whether you’re a player or a coach,” Williams said. “I’m very grateful for having the opportunity.”
Now that Williams is in Orlando, the responsibility of putting together a roster falls on his shoulders. With the announcements of defensemen Corey Fienhage and Bryce Aneloski signing contracts on Monday, the present count of players set for training camp in October is ten. That number includes returning Solar Bears Kyle Beattie, Michael Neal, C.J. Severyn, Ryan Blair and Joe Marciano. Newcomers to the roster include forwards Tyler Murovich, Mike Ullrich (who played for Williams in Trenton) and Ian Slater, another former Titan who grew up on Florida’s Spacecoast.
Williams will also be getting players from not one but two NHL affiliates as the Toronto Maple Leafs join the Minnesota Wild in sending prospects to Orlando. Williams said that he is very happy to have the extra help in putting talent in Solar Bears uniforms.
“I think it (having two affiliates) adds depth within the organization. Certainly there is some flexibility as far as being able to utilize their resources and our resources,” he said. “Obviously with Minnesota there was a great working relationship last year. Toronto didn’t have an affiliate last year so to have a franchise of that magnitude – it’s an Original Six team – (that) has a lot of history behind it, it’s very exciting. Speaking with Claude (Loiselle, Toronto V.P. And Assistant G.M.), we’re very excited to have them on board.”
While he waits for October to see what players the Wild and Maple Leafs send down, Williams won’t be sitting around waiting. He plans on continuing to add to the roster with free agents.
“I’ve been in situations as a coach where I was told I’d be getting x,y and z and all of a sudden the opening day roster came and you didn’t get anybody. I think it’s important to be able to put together a team in place now and then when the opportunity (comes) to have players sent down then you prepare yourself for that,” Williams said. “Again you don’t want to sit and put yourself in a position where you had an opportunity to sign a good player (and didn’t) because you were trying to make room for somebody else that might not even be here.”
When he’s not on the phone, Williams will be getting re-acclimated to Central Florida. Many might forget that he played four games for the 2001 IHL Turner Cup champion Solar Bears. This time around, he has a family with him so stopping and smelling the roses will be part of the plan.
“When I played here, I was always a little bit more isolated as far as my flexibility to do a lot of stuff,” he said. “For me, it’s going to be a little nicer to kind of branch out a little bit and see things a little bit more. From what I’ve seen and experienced thus far, it’s been unbelievable.”
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