Of all the Dave “Tiger” Williams stories during his years with the Vancouver Canucks, none is more famous than Tiger’s “riding the stick” in Toronto on December 10, 1980.
For six seasons in the 1970s, Williams’ pugnacious style and protection of teammates endeared him to Toronto Maple Leafs fans. Then, on February 18, 1980, in his hotel room in the wee hours on a road trip, Tiger received a disturbing message.
“It was not very respectful,” Williams recalled. “At one in the morning, I get up and there’s an envelope slid under the door. It said ‘You and your roommate (Jerry Butler) got traded.’ Never said where, nobody had signed it.
“I throw on my sweatpants, I go up to the suites where Punch (Imlach, Toronto general manager) is, pound on the door. They say, ‘We’re not opening the door.’”
Williams and Butler had been shipped to Vancouver for Rick Vaive and Bill Derlago. That was the prelude to an emotional first game back in Toronto, two months into the 1980-81 season.
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The Leafs held a 4-3 third period lead when Tiger took over, assisting on the tying goal, then scoring the eventual game-winner in an 8-5 Canucks victory.
“I sat on my stick going towards my goalie,” Tiger said of what happened next. “I never thought about it, I never did it before. It’s just the way it’s supposed to be in pro sports. Things are just supposed to happen. It was spontaneous.
“A lot of people, to this day, talk about how many times I rode my stick in the National Hockey League. The answer is, once. That was the only time.”
That may be true, but Tiger in his career showcased a wide variety of flamboyant goal celebrations. People forget how many chances Williams had to show them off; he scored a career-high 35 goals in ’80-’81 for the Canucks, and 241 for his career.
During that same season, Williams made his only All-Star Game appearance. He still found time for plenty of his specialty: agitating.
Tiger Introduces Himself To Rookie Netminder
On the night of February 3, 1981 – Tiger’s birthday – Vancouver hosted the Washington Capitals at Pacific Coliseum. Mike Palmateer started in goal for the Caps, but suffered an injury late in the 2nd period. Rookie Dave Parro came on in relief, and Williams wasted no time acquainting himself with the youngster.
“There was a faceoff deep in our end,” Parro told the Saskatoon Star Phoenix. “Tiger doesn’t line up. He skates right up to me, puts his nose against my facemask, and asks, ‘Hey, where’s your weakness?’”
The goalie laughed that one off. Relations got more testy in the final minutes, when Tiger crowded Parro’s crease.
“I tapped him on the ankle. He came back for more and I really gave it to him,” Parro recalled. “He turned around and pitch-forked me. If I hadn’t moved, it would have been my throat.”
Instead, the Tiger and the ‘Minder were assessed matching penalties. Parro stood tall against a Canucks barrage – 19 saves in 26 minutes of relief, allowing just one goal – to earn the 3-3 tie.
In total, Williams played 312 games in a Canucks sweater, scoring 83 goals and adding 82 assists. And, let’s not forget, amassing 1,324 minutes in penalties. The high point of his Vancouver tenure came in 1981-82, when Tiger helped the Canucks reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time.
(The “Riding the stick” quotes came during an interview on the Squid and the Ultimate Leaf Fan podcast.)
Editor’s Note – Williams remains, and barring the world and the league falling into complete anarchy, will remain the all-time NHL leader in career penalty minutes with 3,971.