Hitmen go with vet for bench

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

Two years away from the game taught Mike Williamson a valuable lesson.

He wanted back.

Williamson spent 15 years as a player, assistant coach and head coach of the Portland Winterhawks, but being out of the loop the last couple of seasons showed him where his heart lays.

"I'm very hungry to get back in it," he said upon being named the Calgary Hitmen head coach yesterday. "I was in Portland for a little over 15 years, and that's a long time to be in one place in this industry, so I think I was a little bit exhausted when it ended.

"But I missed it pretty quick."

Williamson, 36, replaces Dave Lowry, who left to take an assistant coach position with the Flames.

He may not be a big-name coach in these parts, but not much is missing from Williamson's resume.

As a player, he spent three seasons with Portland, and was captain his final year, 1993-94.

He spent four-plus seasons as an assistant coach, including the 1997-98 campaign in which the Winterhawks won the Memorial Cup.

He took over the head coaching reins in the 1999-2000 campaign and guided the squad to the WHL final the next season.

After the 2006-07 season, he was fired and spent the last year and a half as an operations manager for a screen printing and embroidery company in Oregon.

The Hitmen are unquestionably one of junior hockey's marquee squads, and the list of candidates interested in the post undoubtedly read like a list of who's who, but Williamson was chosen from the group.

"He had a lot of guys in his ballpark," said Hitmen GM Kelly Kisio.

"I knew of his record as a coach in Portland and talked to a lot of people about him -- Bruce Hamilton, Ken Hodge, Tim Speltz, those type of guys that have been in our league for a long time -- and they helped me understand him and know him a lot better."

Williamson filed a wrongful dismissal suit against the Winterhawks in May 2008. He responded "I can't comment" in regards to the legal issues.

Williamson, who originally hails from Leduc, takes over a Hitmen team that had a record-breaking regular season -- a 59-9-3-1 record -- but lost in the championship final.

"Some big shoes to fill after the successful season the team had last year and the job Dave did," Williamson admitted. "But I know with what Kelly's done and put in place and the returning people, we're going to be very successful."


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