A Look Into Justin Williams’ Italian Heritage Identifies Hockey In His DNA

Photo: @Capitals

Justin Williams came to the Washington Capitals as a free agent prior to the 2015-2016 season. He has proved to be a good addition to the team, scoring 22 goals and 52 total points, primarily playing as the right wing on the second line. Caps’ fans were not only entertained by his exploits on the ice but off the ice as well.

Prior to signing with the Caps, his son, Jaxon, said, “Daddy, if we don’t go back to L.A., you should play with Ovechkin, because he’s the best!

justin-williams-fall-puck-surprise-washington-capitalsIn November of last year, the Caps held a “Fall Puck Surprise” to raise money for charity, and this time the fans who bought unsigned pucks got to meet Justin, who personally signed them. His daughter, Jade, accompanied him to the event. Little Jade held her dad’s leg with one hand while her other hand clasped a hockey stick.

Justin was famously captured swaying to the music of “Cotton Eyed Joe” during last year’s March 22 game against the Ottawa Senators. And when the Caps held their late season picture day, Justin’s hair was the star – in its poufy glory. Pictures of his hair, and Williams pre-shot preparation of it, went viral on the blogs and social media.

The last game of the season was Williams’ 1,000 game where he and his family were presented with a silver stick to commemorate his achievement. There were numerous tribute videos, including from his parents, Craig and Denise, complete with her “poufing” her hair similar to what her son did in the team picture.

In the video below, you can view the full tribute video that was shown at the Verizon Center on April 10, 2016, prior to the start of the Capitals vs Ducks game where Justin was honored for playing 1,000 NHL games.

Here’s a little bit about Justin’s heritage that you probably didn’t know. While his mother’s side of the family contributed genetically to his full head of hair, his father’s side likely contributed, too. Over the off-season, I learned that Williams’ paternal grandmother was of Italian descent and from the personal experience of being married to an Italian, know that poufy hair is a typical characteristic of that ethnic group. Justin’s grandmother’s maiden name was Toppazzini and she had two brothers, Jerry and Zellio, who had played in the NHL and another brother, Ted, who played professional hockey but never played in the NHL. Just like so many others we see in the NHL, hockey is in Justin’s DNA via his paternal grandmother’s family.

jerry-toppazziniThe more well-known of those two brothers was Jerry “Topper” Toppazzini who had played twelve seasons, primarily with the Boston Bruins. He was a forward who was a skilled defensive specialist and had set the league record for short-handed goals with seven. He came up with the Bruins in 1954 but was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks and then to the Detroit Red Wings but returned to Boston in 1956, staying there for the next nine years. The Bruins had made the playoffs during four seasons of his tenure there, losing in the Stanley Cup Finals three times and in the semi-finals one other time. On October 16, 1960, Jerry substituted for the Bruins’ goalie, Don Simmons, who was injured with 30 seconds left in a match. With that appearance, he was the last position player to substitute in goal in an NHL game.  After his playing career was over, he coached for the Springfield Kings in the AHL for two years and, after that, coached for the Sudbury Wolves in the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA).  After retiring from coaching, he opened a men’s clothing store in Sudbury and also operated a Bruins’ themed bar there called Beef n’ Bird.

zellio-toppazziniZellio, Jerry’s older brother, also played in the NHL, playing 123 games with the Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, and Chicago Blackhawks over a period of 12 years.  He had spent most of his career with the Providence Reds minor league team. In 2000, the Rhode Island Reds Heritage Society named Toppazzini its “Player of the Century”. There certainly is a family resemblance between Zellio and Justin from the looks of Zellio’s picture shown here.

Incidentally, there is a Topper’s Pizza restaurant chain in Sudbury, Ontario that was founded by a Giuseppi Toppazzini.  At the present time, his grandchildren run that chain.  I have not yet discovered if the family running Topper’s Pizza is related to Justin Williams’ paternal grandmother but I wouldn’t be surprised to find a relation.

By Diane Doyle

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2 Responses to A Look Into Justin Williams’ Italian Heritage Identifies Hockey In His DNA

  1. Pingback: Justin Williams: A Tale of Two Seasons | NoVa Caps

  2. Kyle toppazzini says:

    Well I can tell you that yes for certain the Toppazzini’s of toppers pizza are related. Jerry Toppazzini was a first cousin.

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