March 4, 2014

Matt Williams Faces His Toughest Opponent Off the Ice

Tami Knopsnyder 2014 copyright
Last season the Tomahawks made a trade with Coulee Region Chill to bring Forward, Matt Williams, to Johnstown. Williams was a veteran and brought solid play on both sides of the puck to Johnstown's line up.

As a two-way player Williams didn't mind battling in the corners for loose pucks, setting up teammates with great passes, or even netting goals himself.

Williams played in 101 NAHL regular season games. In that time he registered 34 points (11 goals, 23 assists) and 94 penalty minutes. 14 of those games took place in a Johnstown Tomahawks' uniform.

"(Williams is) a team guy that gave 100% every shift and we all wished we would have had him all season", said Johnstown Tomahawks' General Manager Rick Boyd.

His play on the ice led to a division-three scholarship to continue playing hockey after his junior career was over. At the start of the 2013-2014 season, he headed to Lake Forrest College to begin his college career and adult life. Williams only played one game for Lake Forrest before deciding to transfer to WMU.

"Lake Forest was not the right fit for me as a player and I simply was not happy there. I did not know if I was going to play hockey at WMU, but I decided I would give their club team a try for the second semester", said Williams.

In a transfer, he went from playing D3 hockey to D1. Williams played four games for the Stallions, and in those four games he scored his first college goal.

Williams was settling into his new life and playing the game he loves so much. But just like hockey where a game can turn in a split second, Williams life did just the same.

"I found a lump on the base of my neck about half the size of a tennis ball in late January, and did not know what it was", said Williams.

Matt quickly went to the hospital to get examined. The doctors told him that he had an enlarged lymph node. "They did a CT Scan and found other over-sized nodes in my chest, which the doctor said could be Lymphoma", said Williams.

He went immediately into surgery. "They removed the large node from my neck and took it for a biopsy", said Williams. Adding, " I had no other symptoms and felt 100% healthy through the whole testing process."

The final diagnosis was that Williams had Hodgkin's Lymphoma. If it sounds familiar, it's because another hockey player was diagnosed with the same cancer in 1993, Mario Lemieux.

"Hearing that you have cancer is something you can never prepare yourself for. But once I made the decision to be optimistic and positive it has made everything easier", said Williams.

" I know I will go through some tough times during this process, but all I can do is stay positive and hope for the best", said Williams.

Matt has his family and friends supporting him and they will be by his side as he takes on his toughest opponent yet. He also has his entire fanbase behind him, who have already shown their love and support to the former Tomahawks' player.

Led by the Knopsnyders', Williams billet parents while he lived in Johnstown, the Johnstown fans put together a banner just for Williams to show their support with the obstacles he faces.

Tami Knopsnyder 2014 copyright
"I don’t know if I have the words to express how grateful I am for the sign. It was indescribable. To be honest when I opened it I really didn’t say much because I was blown away by how many people had signed it", said Williams.

The sign was laid out in front of the Tomahawks locker room during their homestand vs. the Michigan Warriors a few weeks ago. Fans wrote personal messages and words of encouragement to Williams.

"To know everybody in Johnstown is supporting me and is in my corner is a special feeling. If I could thank each and every one of them I would", said Williams.

The road ahead will have its highs and its lows. The outlook for recovery from Hodgkins is high, but it's still something that can't be taken lightly. Williams is counting on his strong circle of family and friends to help him through the next months of his life.

"My family and friends have made it clear since the beginning that this is a group fight and they won’t let me go through this alone. I’m truly blessed to have such great support", said Williams.

Even though his time in Johnstown wasn't long, once a 'Hawk always a 'Hawk. "Absolutely. After last year ended Mr. Bouchard called me to check in and see how I was doing and said to me “Once a Tomahawk, always a Tomahawk and that they would do anything they could to help me with anything I needed", said Williams.

"From the front office, Mr. Bouchard and Mr. Boyd, Coach Spence and Coach Mike, to all the fans in Johnstown, I feel they really care about their players and do everything they can to help them succeed", said Williams.

"Matt will win this battle in front of him right now and go on to finish his college hockey career", said Boyd.

And we predict everyone, from friends and family to former and current Tomahawks' players, to all the Johnstown fans, will be cheering him on as he does.

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