White year memorable

ADAM WAZNY -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 11:34 AM ET

One has to like the way 2006 is shaping up for Ian White.

The Steinbach-product rose to the challenge in his first National Hockey League action with the Toronto Maple Leafs as they tried desperately to get into the post-season. And the off-ice events of the past week look to serve him well for the future.

"The more games you're up there, the more comfortable you get," the Toronto Marlies defenceman said as his club traveled to Grand Rapids Thursday to face the Griffins in its first round Calder Cup playoff match-up.

"It's just like when I came (to the AHL)," White continued. "I felt really good with my game there, comparing it with other players. I can handle myself and handle the pressure situations of a team trying to make the playoffs."

REALISTIC CHANCE

And his showcase has given him a realistic chance to be with the big club next season.

First there's the way he performed in a 12-game stint (one goal, five assists, plus-2, all in under 20 minutes per game) with the Leafs.

Add that to the firing of Pat Quinn, who has a reputation of turning to veteran players rather than youth, on Thursday and the near certainty of Marlies bench boss Paul Maurice taking the Leafs' reins, and things look pretty good for the 21-year-old.

"I think I showed I can take the next step here," said White, who has a year remaining on his deal with Toronto.

White still feels energized about what the season has meant to his career.

Having put together a 37-point season in 59 games with the Marlies, Toronto's sixth round choice (191st overall) in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft still has the memory of his first NHL game fresh in his mind.

"There was a lot of emotions coming at all angles that day," he said of his March 26 debut in New Jersey, where he picked up an assist. "First of all, I had to get up at four in the morning and catch a flight down to Jersey. When I got there I was up all day, it was just too exciting to sleep. I was tired, I was pretty much running on adrenaline.

"I just tried to channel all of the emotion into some kind of positive output. Fortunately, it went OK."

Three games later, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound White had an on-ice interview in his first appearance on Hockey Night in Canada and scored his first NHL goal on Buffalo's Martin Biron later the same evening -- all with his parents at the Air Canada Centre.

White admitted he didn't think he'd get a chance this year -- despite all the injuries on the organization's thin blue-line.

"I was wondering when I'd go up," he joked. "Four or five guys get called up and you start to wonder just how deep you are on the depth chart."


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