Canton native a surprise Hobey Baker finalist
From hardly — as in, ever playing — to Hobey?
Sure Charles Williams certainly isn’t the favorite to win the Hobey Baker Award, college hockey’s version of the Heisman Trophy, but then again he’s used to long odds.
This is, after all, a kid who spent four years barely ever seeing the ice at Ferris State, only to transfer to Canisius, where this season he took the game by storm.
“There were definitely some hard times,” Williams said of his tenure in Big Rapids. “But I kept my faith.
“It just wasn’t my time.”
Williams’ time, it turns out, was this year.
A native of Canton, he played 31 games in net for Canisius, a Division I program in Buffalo, N.Y., and posted a save percentage of 94.3 and six shutouts — both first in the nation — and a goals-against average of 1.83 — second in the nation.
That earned Williams a spot among the 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, a list announced earlier this month. The final three will be unveiled at the end of this month, with the winner announced April 7 at the Frozen Four in Chicago.
A year ago, around this time, Williams didn’t know if he’d ever even get his chance to be a starting goalie at the collegiate level.
“We took a chance on a fifth-year graduate transfer,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “We only returned two seniors, a defenseman and a forward. We talked to Charles that, regardless of what happened on the ice, we did expect him to contribute to our leadership group.
“Anything from there was a bonus.”
Canisius had a goalie in sophomore Simon Hofley, who started the season opener.
Then, Williams, 25, got his shot in Game 2, also against defending national champion North Dakota. And when Smith looked at the scorebaord after the second period, it only was 2-1 North Dakota.
North Dakota had won the previous day, 6-0.
“That was the first sort of, ‘Hey, this guy’s a good goalie,’” Smith said.
The next weekend, Canisius went to Alaska, where Williams got one start, a win. A freshman, Daniel Urbani, started the next game, and lost, albeit, 1-0.
After that, though, coaches decided to give Williams a full weekend, against Robert Morris.
Canisius won one game and tied the other.
And that was that. Canisius had its goalie.
“All of a sudden,” said Smith, “it was a positive momentum that he just kept building upon.”
Williams, who attended high school for three years at Salem in Canton before playing juniors his senior year in Iowa, never found that momentum at Ferris State.
Some of that was out of his control.
Ferris State, after all, was stacked at goalie, with C.J. Motte — a former Hobey Baker finalist, himself — in net when he Williams first arrived in Big Rapids. Motte was followed by Darren Smith.
So in four years at Ferris State, Williams would only play in 20 games, with 15 starts. He had one shutout over those four years (he didn’t play at all in 2014-15).
A naturally positive person, those four years sure put that to the test.
“Yeah, definitely,” Williams said over the phone this week. “I thought I definitely had the right tools to compete at the Division I level.
“I had a lot of people in my corner, my family, my teammates, my girlfriend, I had a lot of people that were there to talk me through things, and let me know this wasn’t going to be the end.
“My time was coming. I think that helped me a lot.”
After last season, Williams sat down with his Ferris State coaches and expressed an interest in transferring for his graduate season (he was pursuing a master’s in sports administration).
Coaches were reception, and put a list of possible destinations together.
The list started with Canisius, where Trevor Large — a former Ferris State standout — is an assistant coach. Williams talked to Large, and that went well. Same with Smith.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
He helped lead Canisius to a 21-11-7 record and its first Atlantic Hockey Conference regular-season championship, before Air Force won the conference tournament and the automatic bid into the NCAAs.
“We knew he had been a good goalie in juniors, and had been beaten out by really good goalies at Ferris,” Smith said. “But, no, we did not predict this type of success.”
Canisius’ conference doesn’t have a great reputation nationally.
So that’s why Williams’ chances at the Hobey don’t seem great.
But he’s a possibility to at least make top three — though he’s pretty thrilled just to be top 10, given everything he went through to get to this point.
“It was definitely a huge honor to be able to have my name next to some of the greatest names in college hockey,” said Williams, who after the season signed with the Manchester (N.H.) Monarchs of the ECHL, and should make his pro debut this weekend. “It was huge for me and huge for the program, too, in terms of how hard we work here. It’s a team effort.
“It’s definitely something I’ll never forget.”
HOBEY BAKER FINALISTS
* Zach Aston-Reese, Northeastern
* Michael Bitzer, Bemidji State
* Anders Bjork, Notre Dame
* Will Butcher, Denver
* Spencer Foo, Union
* Tyler Kelleher, New Hampshire
* Alexander Kerfoot, Harvard
* Tyler Sheehy, Minnesota
* Mike Vecchione, Union
* Charles Williams, Canisius