When Steve Whitney arrived at Lawrence Academy (Groton, Mass.) as a freshman in 2005, it was tough coaxing even a few words out of him.
Now a senior, Whitney has learned to open up more, especially if he gets to know a person. But he hasn't quite mastered the gift of gab like, say, Terrell Owens. He also happens to have the polar opposite personality from his gregarious older brother, Joe, a former teammate at LA who's currently a star sophomore at Boston College.
Whitney instead chooses to let his play do the talking, and that's been good enough for the 5-foot-7, 160-pound right wing.
A four-year varsity standout with the Spartans, the Boston College-bound Whitney is one of New England's top hockey players. A potential mid-round pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, Whitney has been a mainstay for the U.S. Under-17 and Under-18 National Teams the past few years. He was even selected in both the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and United States Hockey League drafts last spring, eschewing both elite junior leagues to suit up for LA as a senior.
"He's a quiet, reserved individual," LA coach Kevin Potter says. "But on the ice, it's a different story."
Using a mix of speed, agility and tenacity, Whitney has managed to stand out among his peers. While he may not possess the ideal size of a prototypical top-line forward, players of his kind are much more valuable in today's game now that hockey is more focused on quickness and skill than power.
Just look at the NHL, where stars such as Brian Gionta, Martin St. Louis, Danny Briere and last year's Rookie of the Year, Patrick Kane, have all made names for themselves despite standing 5-foot-10 or shorter. Whitney got an up-close look at undersized players having success last winter when he watched his 5-foot-6 brother team with 5-foot-5 Nathan Gerbe to key Boston College's run to the national title.
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"I think if you're my size, you definitely have to carry a chip on your shoulder," Whitney says. "You have to be gritty."
"He plays a lot bigger," Potter adds.
Indeed, since lacing them up for LA as a freshman, Whitney has been tallying points like Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic racks up hits. In his first game with the Spartans, Whitney
potted a goal in a 3-3 tie with Phillips Andover. He finished his freshman season with eight goals and 10 assists despite missing time with a
shoulder injury. LA finished the year 21-5-4 and lost to Cushing, 8-2, in the NEPSAC Tournament Division I quarterfinals.
In the loss to Cushing, Whitney provided one of the Spartans' few bright spots when he fired a shot from just inside the blue line past Cushing goalie Richard Bachman, who's now a standout at Colorado College. "He's got an unbelievably quick release," Potter says.
As impressive as his debut was as a freshman, Whitney was even better as a sophomore. He led LA in scoring with 53 points (23 goals and 30 assists) while his brother (then a senior) was
second with 52 points.
While many of his goals are of the highlight variety, Whitney is also an excellent passer. In a 3-2 overtime win over Belmont Hill as a
sophomore, Whitney fed John Simpson,
who's now playing at Union College, for the game-winning goal in the extra session to cap a thrilling comeback. Whitney had sent the game into OT by scoring off a nifty dish from his brother with 18 seconds remaining. LA had trailed Belmont Hill, 2-0, with 56 seconds to go in regulation.
"Everyone likes to play with Steve because he sees the ice so well and can put it right on your tape," Potter says. "He takes everyone to another level."
The same can be said of Whitney when he's representing his country. In 2006, as a 15-year-old on the Under-17 National Team, he netted a team-high seven points (two goals and five assists) in four games en route to leading his squad to the title at the Under-17 Three Nations Tournament in Rochester, N.Y. The following year, he again led the Under-17s in scoring (four goals and three assists) as Team USA finished second to the host Czech Republic at the
Under-17 Five Nations Tournament.
Last summer, he tallied a team-leading six points (two goals and four assists) for the Under-18 National Team at the 2008 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka Tournament in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Whitney began building the foundation for his success while growing up playing street hockey in Reading and in on-ice pick-up games with Joe and younger brother Tyler, who's now a freshman at LA.
By watching Joe, Steve realized everything that went into earning a scholarship to a college hockey powerhouse.
"I look up to him because I got to see
first-hand his work ethic and his commitment to hockey," Steve says.
In turn, Joe admires everything Steve brings to the ice.
"He's as good as anybody in his age group," Joe says. "He's better than I was at his age, but he's got a long way to go to be the player he wants to be and the player I want him to be."
Part of that progression for Steve is turning in a scintillating senior campaign at LA before he's reunited with his older brother at BC. Last season, Whitney earned ISL All-Star honors after
recording 15 goals and 22 assists, but LA failed to qualify for the NEPSAC Tournament.
It's partly why he turned down the junior ranks to return to the Spartans.
"I felt like we had some unfinished business," Whitney says.
For a man of few words, that speaks volumes about how much this year means to him.
Jon Mahoney covers high school sports for ESPNRISE.com.