Part of a solid rookie class for the Worcester Blades, Lauren Williams brings a fundamentally sound game, complete by strong leadership skills both on and off the ice. In addition to her status as the first pick overall of the 2018 CWHL Draft, the native of Windsor, Ontario also boasts a gold medal from the Canadian Under-18 Nationals, achieving the feat in 2012 with an inspiring Team Ontario Blue roster. Also involved with the commendable #weareblueprint movement, which looks to engage with and mentor student athletes, it is solidifying her status as a celebrated hockey humanitarian, representing the total package for a rebuilding Blades franchise.
Holding the first pick overall for the third consecutive year, a league first, the Worcester Blades selection would emphasize the sense of history. Williams would become part of a unique sorority, joining Kayla Tutino (2016) and Courtney Turner (2017) among the first overall picks in Blades history.
Of note, each pick proved to be part of an integral part of Draft lore. From the outset, Tutino was the first player born in the province of Québec taken first overall. The following draft, Turner became the first American selected with the top pick. In this year’s draft, Williams left her own mark in the Draft, emerging as the first-ever Wisconsin Badgers alum selected as the top pick.
“I hold some high expectations for myself on and off the ice. I would have those same expectations whether I was the first or last draft pick. I am just extremely thankful to be able to continue playing the game I love while also pursuing my Masters Degree. But to have had my family there at the draft and to receive the honor of the first overall pick, that was a special experience.”
Simultaneously, Williams belong to another proud legacy in Blades lore. Worth noting, she joins the likes of Brianna Decker, Meghan Duggan and Hilary Knight as Badgers alumnae that have skated for the black and gold. At Wisconsin, Williams graced the ice in over 140 appearances, highlighted by competing in the 2017 NCAA Frozen Four national championship game.
Enjoying the prestige of serving as alternate captain in her senior season, along with a role as a shot blocking specialist, Williams was also the embodiment of a student-athlete. Gaining a trio of selections to the WCHA All-Academic Team (2016, 2017, 2018), along with multiple recognition as a WCHA Scholar Athlete, Williams’ greatest legacy with the Badgers may be her fine work as a hockey humanitarian.
Having volunteered for causes such as Ride for Dad and Respit Care, the essence of teamwork took on a greater meaning in her volunteer work at Madison. Along with teammate Annie Pankowski, the two were involved with Occupaws, which trains guide dogs for visually impaired individuals throughout the state. Worth noting, Williams and Pankowski ranked first and third among the Top 50 Wisconsin student-athletes placed for volunteer impact in 2017-18. Five teammates, sophomore Maddie Rowe, along with a quartet of freshmen Grace Bowlby, Delaney Drake, Maddie Posick and Caitlin Schneider, joined Williams and Pankowski by also placing among the Top 50, representing the potential for strong leadership in successive seasons.
Heading into her professional hockey odyssey, Williams looks to gain another prestigious place in Wisconsin hockey legend. Taking into account that Badgers legends Decker, Duggan and Knight have all captured a Clarkson Cup in Blades colors, it is certainly a goal that Williams aspires to achieve. Before reaching such a summit, the initial goal is to compete for a postseason berth. With the club boasting one of the league’s hardest working goaltenders, along with a strong base of players that competed at the NCAA level in Massachusetts, Williams’ approach to the future consists of a commendable maturity that is poised to help strengthen the team culture.
“This year, we are focusing on the idea that this team is not the team of previous years. We have said in the locker room many times that everything is possible with this group--and we all believe it. We have already seen it at times in the games we have played so far. So although it would definitely mean a lot to me to be a part of bringing the Worcester Blades to the playoffs, I know that it will mean a lot more to the team and this new organization in Worcester who have worked so hard thus far.”
Considering Williams’ status as the first pick overall, one which brings about numerous expectations for any athlete in this unique position, she is quick to recognize that the bigger picture reflects a very formidable draft class. Although such standing as first pick brings expectations of becoming a foundation for a rebuilding franchise, Williams employs a philosophical perspective. Acknowledging the fact that any success is obtained as a team, Williams is eager to contribute towards an exciting new era for the team, displaying an admirable maturity that is destined to bring about key leadership,
“I think that coming into this season with that title in mind, I put a little bit of extra pressure on myself because of the group I was drafted with. There were some big names who did amazing things in their college careers, but this is a new start for all of us. I have always seen myself as a leader and I aspire to be one on every team I play with.”
A road contest on October 13 against the defending Clarkson Cup champion Markham Thunder marked Williams’ debut with the Blades. One week later, she would enjoy her home debut, as the franchise’s first-ever game in Worcester involved a weekend series against the rebuilding Toronto Furies, which also signified fellow Blades rookie, Alexis Crossley-Miller’s debut in CWHL play. Not only are the Blades the city’s first-ever professional female sports team, it extends a proud legacy of professional hockey in the area dating back two decades, including the AHL's Worcester IceCats (1994-2015) and Worcester Sharks (2006-15), and the current Worcester Railers of the East Coast Hockey League.
Definitely, the key highlight in the first half of Williams’ initial sojourn into the professional ranks involved the treasured opportunity to travel across the Pacific for an early November affair in China versus the Shenzhen KRS Rays.
In spite of the fact that the Blades suffered a sweep overseas, the chance to grow the game and expand awareness about elite women’s ice hockey in multiple nations has translated into a labour of love. Discussing the transition from the Badgers to the Blades, the strong team culture and collaborative effort have allowed for a stimulating transition, poised to result in Williams being a welcome presence in Worcester for many seasons to come.
“The thing about the Blades that I have never experienced before was the fact that from the moment I stepped on the ice at pre-training camp skates, I was made to feel like I was as much a part of the group as the girls who had played here for years.
There is no separation between the rookies and veterans. We are all very close and we make sure to have fun in addition to putting in the hard work. I love it here.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Badgers game action by David St. Luka
Blades image by BDZ Sports:
References: https://uwbadgers.com/news/2018/5/11/varsity-magazine-baggot-impact-of-volunteering-at-heart-of-giving-back.aspx (Image also obtained from this article)