Plenty of people from the NWT have made their way south to watch hockey games — happens all the time and to many different locales.
James Williams and his mother, Pam Williams, are on their way to Elmont, New York to take in Games 3 and 4 of the National Hockey League Eastern Conference quarter-final between the New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes at the UBS Centre, home of the Islanders. The ‘Canes hold down a 2-0 series lead after winning the first two games at home in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.
While you may think it’s a nice vacation, there are a couple of other Yellowknife connections to this story. One is courtesy of the late Robb Olexin.
James said the trip came about after the Islanders made the playoffs, much to the chagrin of his sister, Aurora Kotokak.
“The Islanders got in there by one point over the (Pittsburgh) Penguins — Aurora is a Penguins fan, so she wasn’t really happy about that,” he said. “Mom and I started talking about going and we made the arrangements.”
His father is the late Tom Williams, who was a diehard Islanders fan. That’s the first connection.
“Dad would have been going if he was still with us and I know he would’ve wanted us to go,” James said.
Mother and son left Yellowknife Thursday and flew into Calgary. From there, they were booked on a red-eye this morning to Toronto, where they were scheduled to board their flight into LaGuardia International Airport in New York City.
Here’s the second Yellowknife connection to the story:
Olexin, who, like Tom, succumbed to cancer last year, got into the arena-building business after moving away from Yellowknife. He travelled the world through his employment with Becker Arena Products in Minnesota to places such as Turkmenistan and even put together outdoor rinks for such celebrities as Kristi Yamaguchi, Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen.
It was a craft he learned while working at the old Gerry Murphy Arena and he got to know Tom while playing hockey.
“Dad and Robbie were really close,” said James. “They were both goaltenders and got to know each other really well.”
Olexin had a hand in building the UBS Centre and it was during that time when he learned his old friend had been diagnosed with cancer. Knowing Tom was an Islanders fan, Olexin decided to do something to honour him: write his name on one of the girders within the building.
It wasn’t just any place, though, James said.
“He wrote his name in a spot that eventually became part of the Islanders’ dressing room,” he said. “That was so cool and so awesome to know that dad would be in that locker room with the team before every home game.”
There was a request from Olexin to keep it a secret until the company had finished up its work, but James couldn’t resist.
“I put it right out there for everyone to see,” he said.
Tom will be there in some form as mother and son have taken an Islanders jersey autographed by Bryan Trottier along with his favourite hat.
“Maybe having dad there in some small way will turn things around for the Islanders,” said James.