By Shane Frederick firstname.lastname@example.org
The Mankato Free Press
---- — MANKATO — Stephon Williams waited through two National Hockey League drafts, listening for his name to be called. But it never was.
On Sunday, the third and final time around for the Minnesota State goaltender, he again waited, watching the event with his girlfriend and others at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Prior Lake. Once again, Williams didn't hear hear his name. But at least he was drafted this time.
"I found out through texts," said Williams, who was taken in the fourth round by the New York Islanders. "The (TV broadcast) was on commercial when they picked. ... It was a complete surprise, an awesome surprise."
Williams had a fantastic freshman season with the Mavericks, earning the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's Rookie of the Year Award, as well as first-team All-WCHA honors. Still, his play didn't land him on the NHL Central Scouting Service rankings, which listed him the previous two years when the Fairbanks, Alaska, native was in junior hockey.
"I wasn't disappointed (in the previous drafts)," Williams said. "I never go in with expectations, even this year. I just hope for the best. At the end of the day, you can't expect anything to get handed to you."
He must have been high on the Islanders' own list, though. They were one of a handful of teams that showed interest in him, MSU coach Mike Hastings said, and interviewed him before the draft.
"I'm really excited for him," Hastings said. "No. 1, it's well-deserved, and No. 2, it's a great pick by the Islanders. I think the potential for growth is still there for Stephon. I think he'll continue to challenge himself, and our staff will continue to challenge him."
Williams is the first MSU goaltender to get drafted and the 13th player with MSU ties to get taken in the program's Division I era. He said the Mavericks' outstanding season, which included the program's first trips to the WCHA Final Five and NCAA tournament in 10 years, was a big reason he finally got drafted.
"All of this is due to the fact that our team was successful last year," he said. "None of this would have happened if I wasn't part of that team last year, with coach Hastings coming in and the guys buying in on the deal and playing the way they did. ...
"Look at (San Jose Sharks free-agent signee) Eriah Hayes and where he's going. I feel a lot of credit has to go to the team we had."
The Islanders selected Williams with the 106th overall pick. He was the first of three players from the revamped WCHA to get drafted, and was the 10th goaltender taken, the second by the Islanders. In the third round, New York took Penn State incoming freshman Eamon McAdam, a friend of Williams. The two played together with the United States Hockey League's Waterloo (Iowa) Black Hawks in 2011-12.
Williams is currently in Mankato, along with the majority of next season's Minnesota State team. He hopes to attend the Islanders' prospects camp next week in New York.
"I feel very blessed," he said. "But it doesn't change my mindset going into next season."