FAIRBANKS — Stephon Williams grew up watching Chad Johnson and Wylie Rogers play goalie for the Alaska Nanooks. Today and Saturday, he has a chance to play in the same crease that Johnson and Rogers once did.
Except it won't be for the Nanooks.
Williams, a Fairbanks native, is a 6-foot-2, 190 pounds sophomore goalie for Minnesota State. The Mavericks and Nanooks faceoff at 7:07 p.m. today and Saturday at the Carlson Center.
"I always aspired to play college hockey, wherever that took me," Williams said. "I definitely didn't think I'd be here playing against the Nanooks."
It's the first time Williams has returned home to play a hockey game.
"Obviously it's always exciting to be home, see family, see friends. I already saw my parents, my grandparent, my two little brothers," Williams said. "It's been a good trip so far. It'll be fun to play in front of them."
Williams hasn't played a game in Fairbanks since he left Lathrop before his senior year to play in the United States Hockey League.
"I had an enjoyable experience playing hockey in Fairbanks. Had some great coaches along the way," Williams said.
Williams became a household name when he backstopped Lathrop to the 2009 ASAA First National Bank State Hockey Championship, beating Dimond 4-2. It was the first time an Interior team had won a state title since 1987. Williams followed that up by leading the Malemutes to a third place finish in 2010.
Williams, the reigning Western Collegiate Hockey Association rookie of the year and All-WCHA first team goalie, struggled to start the season, watching freshman Cole Huggins emerge.
Huggins is 7-3-0 this season with a 1.73 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage. Williams is 4-4-0 with a 3.15 goals against average and a .875 save percentage.
"We're fortunate that we have 2 very good goaltenders," Mavericks head coach Mike Hastings said.
But Williams seemed to have found his groove right before the Christmas break.
"Thought he was exceptional against the national program when we took him out," Hastings said. "He was the reason the game was tied when he left. The last game against Huntsville, we didn't start off well that game. He stopped a shorthanded breakaway, an even strength breakaway. I think (Stephon's) back at where he was last year. The break was god for him. It was good for him to finish the first half the way he did. He looks good right now."
Williams started the season 2-4 in his first six games, surrendering 18 goals. In his last two starts against Alabama Huntsville and the U.S. National Junior Team, Williams has given up just two goals.
"Putting a couple good games together right before break helped. It's just one of those things where you have to work hard in practice," Williams said.
Contact sports reporter Tim O'Donnell at 459-7583. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMSportsGuy