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Thunderbirds defenseman Owen Williams adding depth to Seattle blue line

Thunderbirds defenseman Owen Williams notched his first WHL goal Saturday (Brian Liesse/ T-Birds)

Early into the second period of Saturday’s home opener, Seattle Thunderbirds defenseman Owen Williams did something that he had never done before.

He jumped into the open slot, received a pass from Zack Andrusiak and wired a wrist shot past Portland Winterhawks goalie Shane Farkas. The goal gave Seattle a 3-1 lead but for Williams, it was his first goal in the Western Hockey League.

“I just saw the opportunity and followed up on the play and scored,” Williams says of the play. “It was a pretty good feeling, it had been a long time. I was trying really hard last year waiting for it to come. It came in the home opener and I can’t complain.”

It was a smart play by Williams – who turned 18 on Wednesday – as he found the right spot to jump up into the play. That can be a dangerous move for a defenseman.

Jumping up into the slot can go awry if done at the wrong moment as it leaves open ice behind you. Williams says its something that all defensemen must be aware of. You have to pick your spot.

“You have to be careful,” he adds. “You have to be able to see where your guys are and where the other guys are from the other team and just read the play. You have to see if you have the chance and if you’re moving you can make the play.”

He was moving Saturday and displayed a quick and accurate wrist shot.

Growing up, Williams has not been a big scorer from the blue line. The goal Saturday came after a preaseason in which he scored a goal and added an assist in five exhibition contests.

As he enters his second full WHL season, we may see a little bit more scoring from Williams.

“I worked a lot on my shot,” Williams says. “Just shooting positions and stick technique. I worked on it quite a bit this summer.”

Williams is taking advantage of more ice time thanks to some injuries at the top of the Thunderbirds defensive rotation. It bodes well for him, and Seattle, as he gains more experience and confidence playing in big moments.

“You always have to be ready to play,” he says. “Things are going to happen, injuries are going to happen. There’s nothing you can do about it, so you always have to be ready and embrace the role that you have.”

After being drafted in the ninth round of the 2015 Bantam Draft by Regina, Williams played in 28 games for the Pats before being traded to Seattle at the trade deadline last winter. He would go on to play in 31 games for Seattle and recorded five assists.

Hailing from Delta, B.C., the trade moved him closer to home and he says wasn’t too much of a shock.

“With Regina going to the Memorial Cup, trades were going to happen,” he says of the trade. “I was a young guy so wasn’t too worried about it. I knew they had to do what they had to do to put themselves in the best positions.”

Being closer to home was a bonus and Williams said he’ll have a healthy group of people in the stands Friday as the Thunderbirds play the Vancouver Giants at the Langley Events Centre.

Growing up in the Vancouver suburbs you would think that Williams was a big Vancouver Canucks fan, but he says his NHL rooting interests lie a little bit south and in a place you might not expect for a Canadian hockey player.

“I always dreamed about playing hockey in Vegas, even before they had an NHL team,” he says. “My brother went down there for a tournament and I just liked Vegas. I was pretty pumped when they got an NHL team because now they’re my favorite team.”

Williams is still just scratching the surface of his WHL and Seattle career. He is off to a great start and will continue to be a big part of Seattle’s blue line moving forward.

While he got the big goal on Saturday, he says he’s not too worried about how many points he ends up scoring.

“You’ve got to play your game and whatever comes with that, is where you’re at,” Williams says. “You can’t focus too much on it and then you get worried and you’re not focused on playing the game.”

Williams and the Thunderbirds will be on the road this weekend for games in Vancouver and Portland.