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Whitfield comes full circle for 1,000th game

February 23, 2013
Photo: Alan Sullivan

By Erica Larence || AHL On The Beat Archive

Nearly 17 years ago, the Boston Bruins drafted Trent Whitfield in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft. Despite being their fourth-round pick, and 100th overall, Boston decided against signing him to an entry level deal and he returned home as a free agent, playing juniors with the Spokane Chiefs until he was picked up by the Washington Capitals organization in 1998.

Although he wasn’t originally signed by Boston, Whitfield’s career has come full circle and flourished in the place where it was supposed to start back in 1996. In 2009, the Boston Bruins signed the center to a two-year contract and he began his career as a Bruin. In 2011, Boston re-signed him to a two-year contract.

“[Boston wasn’t] too sure about me at that time. So I went back to juniors for one more year and then Washington signed me the next year,” Whitfield explained. “It was unfortunate, but everything kind of came full circle for me.

“Maybe I’ll end my career where I could’ve started. It’s weird how that stuff kind of happens, but I’m happy to be here now and that’s the main thing.”

With the Bruins franchise, Whitfield has recorded 192 games, 171 of which have been played with the Providence Bruins, Boston’s AHL affiliate. When the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in June 2011, Whitfield was there hoisting the cup above his head as a Black Ace, living a moment every hockey dreams about and few achieve.

A month before what was supposed to be a successful second season for Providence’s captain, Whitfield suffered a major setback just before he was supposed to report for training camp: a torn Achilles tendon.

Despite his injury, he made a full recovery and played 45 games with Providence in the 2010-‘11 season and managed to finish third on the squad in goals with 18 and fifth in points with 36.

This season, on February 12, 2013, Whitfield played in his 1,000th professional game. The game against the Manchester Monarchs went into a shootout and Whitfield scored in the sixth round to keep things going. Providence went on to beat Manchester 5-4.

“It’s definitely a great feeling and I’d like to get a few more behind me,” Whitfield said of the milestone.

Whitfield, a hard-worker on and off the ice, takes a lot of pride in his style of play. “I’ve had a lot of ups and downs, but I think penalty killing, kind of defensive-minded hockey is probably my strength and I’ve always been solid in the faceoff circle.”

Whitfield recorded a career-high 78 points with the Peoria Rivermen in the 2006-‘07 season, tallying 33 goals and 45 assists. Although he may not lead Providence in scoring with the seven points in 26 games he has this season, he is the club’s go-to guy on the penalty kill. He puts the pressure on his opponents whenever he is on the ice, especially on the penalty kill, and forces them to make decisions quicker. He leaves it all on the ice, never giving up until the whistle blows.

In his 15-season career, Whitfield has played in 194 NHL games with the Washington Capitals, New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues, and Boston Bruins. In addition, he played in 14 Stanley Cup Playoff games with the Washington Capitals and in four with the Boston Bruins. He made his NHL debut with the Caps on April 17, 2000, in a playoff game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, which he said was the most memorable moment of his professional career.

“My first goal and all those things are, you know, they’re great, too, but I think your first NHL game’s always probably your best memory.

“I think that’s the dream of every kid growing up is to make it and when they finally do, it feels good. All the hard work has paid off. I wasn’t fortunate enough to stay there for a long time, but I was able to make it and play there. I got a couple hundred games there so it’s a great accomplishment for myself.”

Although he may not have had the opportunity to play as many NHL games as he would have liked thus far, Whitfield has had a very successful career. He has made appearances in two AHL All-Star games and was named captain of the 2013 Eastern Conference All-Star Team. He has also been honored with several awards over the years, including two consecutive Most Valuable Player Awards for the Providence Bruins in the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 seasons.

Whitfield is just as valuable off the ice as he is on. He has always had a major presence in the community, volunteering for community events whenever possible, and was awarded the 2010-‘11 Providence Bruins’ Community Service and Fan Appreciation Awards. On March 28, 2011 the Providence Bruins announced that he was the team’s winner of the 2011 IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year Award. Three years earlier, in 2008, he had been named the Peoria Rivermen’s IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year. This award is given to a player on each team for their outstanding contributions to the local community and charitable organizations during the season.

The longevity of his career and all of his success, however, would not have been possible without the support of his wife, Colleen, and their family.

“My wife has been unbelievable. Wherever we have to move to or get the kids to— she’s obviously at home with them all day everyday while I’m here to play hockey or on the road. So, without her and her support, this couldn’t happen. It’s a tribute to her.”

The couple has two young children: six-year-old son, Colton, and five-year-old daughter, Alstyn, whom Colleen takes care of while her husband is working. Moving from team to team is difficult for any professional athlete’s family; however, it is harder for the Whitfield’s. Alstyn, who was born on August 13, 2007, was diagnosed with Down Syndrome, so early intervention classes are very important for her development. Being in Providence for four years has allowed the family to get Alstyn into classes such as speech therapy and physical therapy that help her to develop these particular abilities like any other child.

They have been fortunate enough to stay in one area for this long so that neither of their children have had to switch schools or say goodbye to their friends. When Whitfield is called up to the NHL, he is lucky enough that Boston is only an hour away, which allows him to be home more often and spend more time with his family even with his hectic schedule.

“They’re getting to the age now where I get to take them to their own sports. So it’s a lot of fun. They definitely keep me going,” Whitfield said. “It’s a great release to go home and get my mind off the game.”

Despite having such a busy schedule between his career and his family, Whitfield still has love and passion for the game. It takes a certain type of person to be able to work the hours that professional athletes work and undergo the wear and tear that years of hockey places on the body. Whitfield embraces the challenges and struggles of the sport and enjoys himself. After all, that’s what matters most in any job. As long as he’s having fun, he will continue to play.

Though, when the time does come to hang up his skates, Whitfield would like to stay involved in the sport that shaped him as the person he is today.

“I’d like to get into coaching, whenever that may start. Obviously I’d like to stick around here, but there’s got to be opportunity. I’m definitely looking to stay in hockey and get into coaching at some level. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.”

His inner-coach comes out when helping out teammates. At 35 years old, Whitfield is the oldest player on the Providence Bruins’ team and is a role model for his younger teammates. He remembers being a rookie and looking up to the older players who had been in the pros for ten or twelve years, so he tries to use his experience to do the same for the younger players on the Providence squad.

“This is my fifteenth year and they’ve got questions,” Whitfield said. “So they pick your brain a little bit, ask you little questions here and there and, you know, you try to give them a good, honest answer and, to some degree, I hope I can help their career along.”

His teammates would be smart to take his advice. Whitfield has had a career longer than most and has had the success that many of them hope to have in the future.

When asked if he had any advice for his younger teammates, Whitfield said, “Just have fun. It’s a job, but at the end of the day it’s a game and you’ve got to have fun with it. If you’re not having fun it’s going to be a grind.

“It’s not easy, but when you get the opportunity you’ve got to be prepared for it and this is where you prepare for it. Hopefully they take that to heart and they’re ready when they get the opportunity.”