Brock McGinn will always be linked with Justin Williams, as hockey teammates with the Carolina Hurricanes and for a special shared moment in time.
That said, Williams’ decision to step away from hockey, and the former captain’s absence as a new season begins, will be felt by McGinn and the others.
“It’s tough to replace a guy like that, but he’s kind of showed us the way you have to play, the right way to play,’ McGinn said Tuesday. “If we just follow what he instilled in all of us, I think we can do it as a group.”
McGinn will always have that moment from last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs -- Game 7. the second overtime against the Washington Capitals. The Canes and Caps, a team so intent on winning another Cup, were locked in an intense game, a test of will and stamina.
McGinn can take it from there. The winger has been reminded and asked about the play countless times in the past few months, especially at home in Fergus, Ontario. And he has watched the replay more than a few times -- Williams centering the puck to the net, McGinn going to the net.
“I saw Willy go to the corner and he was spinning so I just took a couple of hard strides to the net there and just tried to get body position on my guy,” McGinn said Tuesday after an informal workout at Raleigh Center Ice.
That “guy” being the Caps’ tough guy, Tom Wilson, a 6-4, 220-pound forward who is hard to budge.
“It worked out,” McGinn continued. “I just saw it coming and was able to bat it down.”
Meaning the puck. McGinn batted it down and past goalie Braden Holtby and just like that, the series was over. Make it McGinn with the goal, Williams the primary assist. Capital One Arena in Washington, so loud for so long quickly became a somber place. The Canes were moving on to the second round.
“As soon as you see it cross that line I don’t think anything runs through your mind,” McGinn said. “You just black out and your body takes over. And then you’re looking at the smiles on everybody’s faces. It was awesome. A cool moment.”
Williams, the man called Mr. Game 7 in the NHL, had delivered again in Game 7. The Canes were on to the second round and McGinn, who scored 10 goals in the regular season, had a Game 7 winner and the memory of a lifetime.
“All my friends back home who have little kids said they all stayed up and watched,” McGinn said. “It was cool to relive it and see how excited the town was for us.”
McGinn, 25, has returned to Raleigh to prepare for preseason training camp. Williams has not retired from the NHL at 37 but said Monday he would “step away” from the game for now, with a return at some point in the 2019-20 season still possible.
“He’s a really good friend and I respect everything he’s done in the game,” McGinn said. “We don’t know it he’s completely done or not but you want to follow those guys who have the passion. You can see the way he led us in the playoffs and the last part of the season. He’s an incredible person off the ice and a great ambassador for the game of hockey, as well.”
McGinn was a restricted free agent after last season and elected to file for arbitration rather than accept the Canes’ qualifying offer. But arbitration was not needed after McGinn and the team agreed July 12 on a two-year contract that will pay McGinn $1.9 million this season and $2.3 million in 2020-21.
Canes general manager Don Waddell said he was “relieved” to have the deal settled without arbitration, calling McGinn a “important part of what we accomplished last season.”
McGinn was relieved, too, to have it done.
“I can play a little more relaxed,” he said. “Just play my game and not worry about all the stuff off the ice, the negotiations and stuff. Just play hockey and play the way I can. Play with confidence.”
A second-round draft pick by Carolina in 2012, McGinn has missed just two games the past two seasons. While his goal production dropped from 16 in 2017-18 to 10, he had a plus-10 rating last season, effectively killed penalties and gave the Canes a degree of physicality that has always been a part of his game. He had two goals and four assists in the playoffs.
McGinn also was a central figure in one of the more memorable Storm Surge postgame celebrations with his Thor-like hammer strike at center ice. Canes fans loved it.
Like Williams, McGinn has a passion for the game. Even with Williams missing, McGinn believes the Canes can improve on last year’s 99-point finish that ended their nine-year playoff drought in the first year with Rod Brind’Amour as head coach.
“We really grew as a team last year and we added some good components to our team,” McGinn said. “I think us going in this year, we have a lot of confidence. We expect a lot from our team.”