Growing up just outside of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Toronto Marlies defenseman Ian White, like most kids his age, followed hockey closely. The small town boy was mesmerized by Mario Lemieux as a youngster, and after he retired (the first time), Joe Sakic quickly replaced him as his favorite player.
The Toronto Maple Leafs drafted the small defenseman in the sixth round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, and White is as close as ever to achieving his childhood dream of playing in the NHL.
With a year of AHL experience already under his belt, the second-year rearguard has taken on a bigger role with the Marlies this season. While obviously anxious to play in the NHL, White understands the need for patience, and he’s trying to take advantage of his time in this league.
“I think the more games you play, the more experienced you’re going to be,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter if it’s down here or up there, but, this is definitely a developmental league and every shift you’re out there you want to try and learn something and improve your game to take it to the next level.”
White has been seeing additional ice time, and is taking on more responsibility of late, due to a myriad of injuries currently plaguing team captain Marc Moro. While not removing himself from the lineup, Moro is playing through at least three different injuries right now, leaving White and defense partner Brandon Bell to step up on both even-strength shifts as well as special teams. Their play has not gone unnoticed by head coach Paul Maurice.
“Well, I don’t want to separate the two – Ian White and Brandon Bell,” he said the day before a recent call-up to the Leafs took Bell out of the Marlies lineup. “Those two have been so good. Marc Moro has been playing with about four injuries. He’s got the full bucket on, he’s playing with one hand, and one leg, and these two guys have been our power play and our puck-moving guys.”
White has been a force on both the penalty kill and the power play. Five of his eight goals have come on the man-advantage this season, helping boost his overall point total to 35 points on the season in 56 games. He’s second in scoring just two points behind Bell and his +11 is tied for second on the team behind Moro. The Marlies currently hold the fourth slot in the North Division of the AHL, and if they continue playing as they have been, will make the playoffs.
The Former Swift Current Bronco, who spent a bulk of his junior days playing with current teammates Jeremy Williams and Ben Ondrus, has been able to attain success at every level of his hockey career thus far, despite standing at only 5’10, 180 pounds. But he’s never let his size deter him.
“For the last five or six years the guys I’ve been playing against were always bigger than me, and it’s going to continue to be that way. So, I’ve adjusted and it’s just something I have to continue to do to play in the NHL.”
Serving as a benefit to the 21-year-old blueliner is the implementation of the new rules in the AHL and NHL eliminating the obstruction penalties, allowing skilled forwards and defensemen the opportunity to skate and make things happen.
“I think they’ve probably helped me a bit,” he said. “Being a smaller guy, I rely on my skating a lot, so the bigger guys can’t hook you or hold you and it opens the game up a little bit more and there’s more room out there and it’s easier to skate and make plays.”
While things in his hockey career are certainly looking up, there’s one thing this small town kid can’t get used to – adjusting to life in the big city of Toronto after growing up in a town of just 12,000 people.
“It was nice,” he said of his upbringing in Steinbach. “I prefer a small town atmosphere to the big city life. You’re not out in the country, but you’re close enough, so it’s just a different lifestyle to Toronto, I guess. Price-wise, it’s pretty costly to live there, and the traffic’s something I don’t think I can ever get used to, but that’s what comes with the territory.”
Those seem like relatively small prices to pay to experience the type of success that no doubt awaits him with that city’s beloved NHL hockey team.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.