Justin and Kelly Williams are like a lot of couples moving into the area, with a checklist of things to do.
They’ve settled into their new home. They’ve gotten a feel for the surroundings, making good use of the GPS. They visited schools before picking one in Cary for their two kids – Jaxon, 9, and Jade, 6.
“The parenting thing took a bite out of our summer with the Aug. 15 school start,” Justin Williams said.
Williams is a not a newcomer to the Triangle. The Carolina Hurricanes forward was a member of the 2006 Stanley Cup champions and spent parts of five seasons with the Canes before his trade to the Los Angeles Kings in 2009.
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Signing a two-year, $9 million free-agent contract July 1 with Carolina, Williams returns to find an area he calls “booming.”
“I heard a stat that maybe 60 people a day move to Wake County or something like that?” he said. “That’s a big, big number.”
As he sat Friday at Raleigh Center Ice, cooling down after an informal team skate, Williams was asked what had changed since he was last in the Canes’ locker room at the practice rink.
“Nothing,” he said, smiling.
The name has changed. It was once the RecZone. And the Canes’ room and the facility have been spiffed up a bit.
“Ten years down the road it’s still the same place,” Williams said. “Same parking spot, same rink. It’s familiar, and I think that’s one of the things that drove me here.”
Williams is back after spending parts of seven seasons with the Kings – winning Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014 – and the past two with the Washington Capitals. The Caps’ seasons both ended miserably for a team with eyes on winning the Cup, bumped out of the playoffs in the second round each year by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Williams, who turns 36 on Oct. 4, has gotten an early start on the informal skates at RCI, albeit with only a handful of other Canes. He ended Friday’s workout with some resistance skating, a stretch cord attached to a harness around his waist.
Given his age, one was to wonder if it’s harder now to bounce back from the grind of a season.
“Not when you lose in the second round every year,” he said, breaking into another smile.
That’s an experience the Hurricanes wouldn’t mind having. The Canes last were in the playoffs in 2009, after an injured Williams was traded to the Kings in a three-team deal that brought forward Erik Cole back to Carolina.
Only one Canes player remains from the 2009 playoff team: goalie Cam Ward. He was on the ice Friday along with defenseman Jaccob Slavin and three young players hoping to make the roster this season – defenseman Haydn Fleury and forwards Sergey Tolchinsky and Valentin Zykov.
In years past, there have been more veterans getting in the early skates, mostly those like Williams who had children starting school in August in the Triangle.
“There’s a lot of puppies on this team, I guess,” Williams said.
But that’s the nature of the league, Williams said. More and more, the game has a younger vibe to it.
“It’s a younger man’s game, it is,” Williams said. “Kids are getting paid younger. There’s more of them on the team, and sometimes the older guys can get pushed out, which you’ve seen the past three or four years – the 32-, 33-year-olds aren’t sticking around as much anymore. It’s changed, but nothing really stays the same.”
When Williams signed with the Canes, he promptly said, “We’re done losing.” That quote got wide play, but his point wasn’t so much about the record – Carolina was 36-31-15, with 87 points last season – but losing out in being a part of the playoffs, the fun part of hockey.
“The margin of error is tiny,” Williams said. “It’s milliseconds. It’s little tips of the puck. It’s big saves, big goals. It’s winning in shootouts. It’s a combination of things.
“It’s not letting things spiral out of control when things are going bad. There are a lot of things throughout the year that you need a little bit of help on. Hopefully when it’s going wrong, I can try and get it going right.”