Marty Williamson isn’t interested in being the underdog. After coaching the Barrie Colts for the last six years, this life-time hockey player and coach just signed to a five year contract to coach and manage the Niagara Ice Dogs. His goal: To make the team into the best in the league.
When I call him at his home in Port Dalhousie he is just finishing unpacking yet another box. Marty just moved to the Niagara Region last week. Deborah, his wife, has done the majority of the unpacking, while he’s been in Boston assessing potential hockey players, and they’re nearly three quarters done. His parents, Paul and Eleanor, are also planning to move to the area, which is no surprise to Marty.
“My parents are unbelievably supportive and huge hockey fans,” he explains. “I don’t think they missed one of my games from midget hockey to junior hockey to university hockey.” Deborah as well as his two children, Shannon and Samuel, are also very supportive. Shannon, 15, cheers only for her father’s team. Samuel, 8, is a “hockey maniac” that is a fan of teams that sign players that his dad has coached like the Chicago Black Hawks and the Phoenix Coyotes.
Not only does Marty have the support to make his lofty goal into a reality, but he also has the experience. He played hockey as a defenseman for York University, where he was studying physical education and geography. After the team won a national championship, Marty was selected to try out for the New York Rangers. Unfortunately, playing in the NHL was not Marty’s fate and he joined the minors, where he played in Newfoundland for a year and then in Europe for three years. It was while playing in Europe, for an English team called the Cleveland Bombers, that Marty found his true path. The team’s coach was let go and the organization asked Marty and another player to both play for and coach the team. He’s still not sure why they chose him, but guesses it was because of how serious he took the game and how hard he took losing. He enjoyed the challenge of coaching so much that when he returned to Markham, his hometown, and got married, he began coaching a midget team.
He loves every part of coaching, he tells me: “When I get out of a game people tell me how loud the rink is, but I really never hear it. I don’t hear people yelling at me, neither for or against. I’m so in the moment, trying to give my team the best chance to win. I’m in my own little world. I love it. I think it’s the greatest two and a half hours.”
While working various jobs at Standard Auto Glass, Speedy Auto Glass, and Rust Check Canada, Marty kept coaching and moved up in various leagues. He was assistant coach for the Caledon Canadians and the head coach for the Colburg Cougars, Milton Merchants, and the Aurora Tigers. He led the Milton Merchants to the Royal Bank Cup, the championship of their league, but came home empty handed.
“I don’t like to lose, but I understand that it’s very difficult to win every game so losing comes with it,” he explains. “I think, part of it is learning how to lose and that the sun comes up the next day.” He took the lessons he learned coaching the Merchants and won the Cup with the Tigers.
After this win, Marty was recruited by the Barrie Colts as head coach where he lead the team to two Central Division titles and a berth in the OHL Championship Series. He loves the team and spent six years coaching them, while becoming a large part of the community. Ultimately he wanted to stay with the team, but wanted more security than the new two year contract they were offering him. It was Bill and Denise Burke, the owners of the Niagara Ice Dogs that convinced him to join Niagara’s team. At the time, their son Bill Burke Jr. was playing for the Colts. It was during one of their games that Bill first mentioned the possibility of Marty coming to coach in Niagara. When the Colts refused to make his contract longer, Marty called Bill.
“I waited to the final minutes and then we talked. I was happy with what I was hearing, he wanted me here, and I signed a five year deal. I’m very excited. For Denise, the team’s like an extended family. She has twenty-two more sons that she has to take care of besides the two that she has. That was part of the appeal.”
And now that he’s joined the team, he’s looking to the future with optimism. The Ice Dogs currently have a reputation as having an older building with a great atmosphere, great owners, and great fans. With a roster of young talented players, Marty hopes to make the team one of the best playing teams in the league. “This year will be a good year for us, but next year should be the year where teams are going to say that’s one of the best teams in the league on paper.”
That’s just where Marty wants to be; ahead! “That’s what I want. I want to be the best. I don’t care about the underdog, I want teams coming after me. Yeah, it puts pressure on you to win, but that’s the kind of pressure you want. If you’ve got the talent and you’ve got the players, then you want that pressure.”
Well, the pressure is on Marty now, as this top dog leads the Ice Dogs into a new era of Niagara hockey.