ROCHESTER – Shawn Williams gets to return to his old home tonight. Again.
Williams has done his share of bouncing around during his long career in the National Lacrosse League. He’s seen both ends of the rivalry between the Buffalo Bandits and the Rochester Knighthawks.
Tonight he hopes to spoil a big night in the history of the Knighthawks, the celebration of a championship, as he returns as a Bandit to play in Rochester (7:30 p.m., nll.com, Radio 1520 AM).
The 38-year-old Williams has been a part of many important nights during his long career. The forward grew up in Ontario and started his career back in 1998. He saw some playing time with the Toronto Rock, but as he puts it, he “blossomed” as a player after he came to Buffalo in 2000. Williams scored 46 goals in 2001, which remains his career high.
“Once I got to Buffalo, it was great,” he said. “Playing with guys like John Tavares and the rest of the boys was a lot of fun.”
The Bandits, however, needed a goaltender after that season, and they completed a huge seven-player deal to bring Steve Dietrich to Buffalo. Williams was one of three players that went to the Knighthawks.
“It was a surprise, especially after playing so well that year,” he said. “But obviously, the magnitude of the trade has to be considered. It was big for both sides.”
Williams settled in with the Knighthawks, and had a brilliant run there. He played 10 seasons with Rochester and had at least 69 points in every one of them. Williams also contributed to some all-time franchise highlights.
“We definitely had some success,” he said. “In 2007, we beat Buffalo in overtime to go to the final. That was a year to remember. We went 14-2 and won the championship.
“It was definitely one of the smallest arenas in the league, but the atmosphere was always great. We always had a good base of fans, and at times we packed them in.”
Just when the Oshawa, Ont., native could at least consider the possibility of some day retiring as a Knighthawk, he was traded to Edmonton before the 2012 season as part of a massive rebuilding plan.
“I wasn’t shocked. I was mildly surprised to see all of the boys leave. It worked out for me, though,” Williams said.
Williams was friendly with Derek Keenan, the Rush’s coach, so he knew he’d fit in out West. Edmonton had a 6-10 record in the regular season last year in spite of Williams’ team-leading 68 points. However, the Rush surprised Calgary and Minnesota in the playoffs.
Where did Williams and his teammates have to go for the championship game? Rochester.
“That definitely was a little weird,” he said. “I got a warm reception. I guess they still liked me in that building. We had a great first half, but they came back and won.”
Williams was told he was in Edmonton’s plans for 2013, but those plans changed.
“We actually had a trade worked out with Minnesota that would have brought us Kevin Ross, but we waited too long. He went to Philadelphia,” Bandits coach Darris Kilgour said. “We weren’t going to just take draft picks to move down two picks in the first round. We wanted a player. They got Willie from Edmonton.”
The Bandits and Swarm then completed a trade that sent Williams, another player and two draft picks to Buffalo for the third overall draft pick in 2012.
“Willie is one of the few guys left that I have ties to, that I’ve played against,” Kilgour said. “He’s a tremendous leader. He stepped right into a leadership role. He wound up with the A on his chest. He’s very knowledgeable, a great shooter.”
Williams is tied for the Bandits’ team lead in scoring after two games with seven points. He and the rest of the Bandits (1-1) will have to watch Rochester (0-1) raise a championship banner during a pregame ceremony tonight. Williams isn’t expecting as warm of a reception tonight as he received last year in the final.
“I imagine I’ll be on the other side of the rivalry. Being a Bandit, that’s OK,” he said. “I enjoy going back to Rochester.”
Defender Billy Dee Smith has been placed on the physically unable to perform list. He suffered a high ankle sprain at work and is out indefinitely.