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White lends a hand in NHL debut

by Patrick Williams

The Toronto Marlies have more or less cruised this season, and defenseman Ian White has been a significant part of that steady-as-she-goes picture for head coach Paul Maurice‘s Marlies.

Not so for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and so the bubbling water in which the Leafs find themselves boiling probably was not the ideal environment in which to dip White. If the Leafs are not officially rolling the white flag up the flagpole, that flag is at least being readied for the arrival of what looks to be postseason exclusion come mid-April.

But necessity begets opportunity, and Alexander Khavanov on Saturday night in Montreal took a Sheldon Souray shot to his right leg that broke a bone, an injury that should sideline the veteran for the remainder of the regular season.

So in came White, who played for the Marlies on Saturday night at Ricoh Coliseum, just in time for the Leafs’ 4-3 win over the New Jersey Devils at Continental Airlines Arena on Sunday night that, theoretically at least, keeps alive playoff hopes for Pat Quinn‘s Leafs.

For all of the Leafs’ troubles this season, the kids are doing all right there in Leafs Nation. The latest in a string of Marlies to make the jump to the NHL this month, White joined Marlies Jean- Sebastien Aubin and Ben Ondrus, plus scratches Andy Wozniewski and Aleksander Suglobov for Sunday night’s win and his NHL debut. Brendan Bell also debuted for the Leafs last week.

White, 21 years old and just 5-foot-10, spent four years in the WHL with Swift Current, where he showed plenty of offensive touch in putting together 24- and 32-goal seasons with the Broncos.

Now in his second AHL season, a 2002 sixth-round pick of the Leafs from Steinbach, Man., has nicely rounded into a very solid AHL offensive defenseman with the Marlies.

For White’s debut, Quinn partnered him with Luke Richardson, and the pairing worked out nicely. White assisted on Mats Sundin‘s second-period goal that put the Leafs up by a 3-1 count, and he wound up logging an even 19 minutes of ice time, earning time on the penalty kill as well.

"I figured that was the best way to make an impression, you know," White said of the assist. "If you see an opening, you’ve got to jump in and try to make things happen offensively."

Quinn sang White’s praises afterward.

"Like Brendan (Bell) last (Tuesday), for guys who are playing in their first (NHL) games, they both had outstanding games. Ian did exactly that. He played heads-up, he moved the puck well, his footwork was good, his positioning was solid. I was quite impressed."

After the Khavanov injury, the Leafs had put White on standby during Saturday night’s game before shortly thereafter officially recalling the youngster. The recall meant a 4 a.m. wake-up call for White, who was at the airport by 4:45 a.m. for his 6:30 a.m. flight to New Jersey.

"It’s been a long day," White admitted afterward. The airport time and all day Sunday left White with plenty of time for thinking for White, who acknowledged some pre-game jitters.

"To be honest, I tried not to think about what was going on too much. The more nervous you are, the worse it’s going to be for you. There was a lot of excitement, but I tried to contain it and channel it into the game."

The White-Richardson pairing endured a hectic finish to the win, though.

White’s third-period hooking minor with the Leafs holding a 4-2 lead put the Devils on a two-man advantage. Patrik Elias‘s goal 18 seconds into the White minor then pulled the Devils to within a goal, setting up a frantic final three-plus minutes of play.

With White still off, Richardson took a boarding penalty that put the Devils right back onto a 5-on-3. New Jersey firmly had the Leafs pinned in the Toronto defensive zone when White’s minor expired with 1:55 to play, leaving him on the penalty kill for a brief spell in a one-goal game and the Leafs fighting for their playoff hopes.

"It was nice," said White of his debut. "It was definitely a bit of a case of nerves to start things off, but once things got going I felt pretty comfortable."

Patrick Williams covers the AHL for theahl.com and SLAM! Sports