Mike Williamson’s playing career came to a close last season due to recurring back problems, but the former Nittany Lion defenseman has remained an integral part of the program.
Head coach Guy Gadowsky extended an invitation for Williamson to join the coaching staff as he finishes up his degree this year. He handles all goalie statistics during practice and specific goalie drills, among other duties.
“We wouldn’t just take anybody and make them an assistant coach,” Gadowsky said Monday. “The team really wanted him around and he’s become a very valuable coach to have, but I think that’s all due to what a tremendous person he is.”
Williamson said he’s glad he made the decision to hang up his skates, despite meaning his lifelong passion for hockey was forced to undergo a slight role change. “I had to consider my personal health for the rest of my life. It’s a choice that had to happen,” Williamson said. “Even though it was difficult, it’s paying off because I’m feeling a lot better physically.”
Though he misses the ice, the camaraderie that can only be experienced in such an environment is still a big part of his life.
“Obviously I’d like to still be playing, but it’s been an unbelievable experience for me,” the Leduc, Alberta native added. “To have to give up the game completely would’ve been a lot tougher than this, because now I can still be with these guys every day and hopefully have an impact on the team’s success in any way I can.”
Senior defenseman David Thompson, who sat next to Williamson and freshman Kris Myllari in the Pegula media room Monday, echoed Gadowsky’s enthusiasm for having him in the locker room this season.
“It wasn’t even a question for us. There was no hesitation. As far as I’m concerned, he’s as much a member of this team as Kris and I are,” Thompson said.
Williamson and Thompson arrived in Hockey Valley as part of the first class that would play all four of its years in Pegula. They were honored alongside captain David Goodwin, Ricky DeRosa, Dylan Richard, and Zach Saar during Senior Night ceremonies earlier this month before beating Wisconsin 6-0.
These graduating Nittany Lions are the only ones on the roster with experience playing against their NCAA Tournament opening-round opponent Union, having hosted the Dutchmen in December 2013. Penn State dropped both games in that series, but the team will have a chance to change the outcome this Saturday at 4:30 p.m. in Cincinnati.
“I don’t think a lot of people expected us to be here at this point in our NCAA history,” Williamson said. “It’s a nice milestone to reach while we’re still here.”
Williamson’s future with the program after his graduation is still up in the air, but Gadowsky mentioned he’d love to keep him on the coaching staff for as long as possible.
“I would really like to, but he’s getting a great education from Penn State unfortunately, which means he’ll have a lot of options,” Gadowsky said with a laugh.