New Hitmen boss a calming influence

WES GILBERTSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:06 AM ET

It'll be nearly a decade until Scott Nichol's eldest son is eligible to skate in the junior ranks, but the San Jose Sharks winger and father of three already cringes at the thought of sending his teenager away from home to chase a hockey career.

It'll be a sigh of relief if the coach is a guy like Mike Williamson, Nichol's teammate for two seasons with the Portland Winterhawks and the new front man for the Calgary Hitmen.

"He's such a great guy. He's a real solid individual," Nichol said. "With him behind the bench, I think it'd be a little easier to swallow."

Fresh off a franchise-record 122-point season and a trip to the Western Hockey League final, the Hitmen announced Wednesday they've hired Williamson to replace former head coach Dave Lowry, who's moved down the hallway at the Saddledome to join the NHL's Flames as an assistant.

It's a change of scenery for Williamson, 36, who's been out of hockey for the past two seasons after 12 years as a member of the coaching staff at Portland's Rose Garden, the same arena where he suited up as a player for three campaigns.

Williamson was the Winterhawks' captain for the 1993-94 campaign. Nichol, now a veteran of seven NHL campaigns, including a pair with the Flames, described Williamson as a father-like figure to many of the youngsters.

"He was a 20-year-old 40-year-old," Nichol said. "He was really mature and he kind of took us under his wing. He basically just showed us how to be a pro, even though it wasn't pro hockey, it was junior."

Williamson, too, had a pretty good mentor when he traded his skates for a suit and tie in 1995. He was a sidekick to current Nashville Predators associate coach Brent Peterson for three seasons, and Boston Bruins blueliner Andrew Ference counts them among the best coaching combos he's ever played for.

Under the guidance of that same tandem, Ference and his Winterhawks teammates won a Memorial Cup in 1998.

"When we were there, they always rewarded the hardest-working guys," Ference said. "Those were the guys they always viewed as the ones that were the most dedicated to personally getting better but also making the team better. As a player, I think you have to really appreciate that."


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