PITTSBURGH — Ian White always believed in Ian White, even if the rest of the hockey world didn’t.
Ask the diminutive Maple Leafs defenceman what it feels like to be solidly entrenched as one of the team’s top four defencemen, and he quickly delivers a reply that oozes with confidence.
“To be honest with you, this is where I thought I could be all along. This is where I thought I should play,” White said.
For the longest time, not everyone agreed with him.
But even the sceptics are beginning to drink the White Kool-Aid, especially after watching him produce heroics like he did against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins Sunday.
When the Pens’ Mike Rupp tied the game at 3-3 with less than three minutes remaining in regulation, the general consensus was that the Leafs would crumble.
Enter White, who came to the rescue just 53 seconds later with a blistering point shot that whizzed past Marc-Andre Fleury for the 4-3 upset.
Thanks to White’s eighth goal of the season, the victory gave the Leafs a huge momentum boost heading into their two-game swing through Alberta that kicks off against Pat Quinn’s Edmonton Oilers tomorrow night.
For White, playing the role of hero is a far cry from 14 months earlier when he was made a healthy scratch by coach Ron Wilson for the first 11 games of the 2008-09 season.
White took the high road. He didn’t sulk. But it wasn’t easy.
“Last year was the lowest point of my career,” White said. “I have to admit, I was a little surprised at what happened.
“But I kept my head up.”
Once he was reinstated into the lineup, White found himself lining up on the wing for a handful of games. No matter. At least he was playing. That was the most important thing.
Coming out of training camp this season, White saw Tomas Kaberle, Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin and Luke Schenn pencilled in as the team’s top four defencemen. But through hard work and a bit of offensive flair, he worked his way into the mix, leaving Schenn, Jeff Finger and Garnet Exelby fighting to avoid being healthy scratches.
“Obviously I don’t like getting handouts,” White said. “You’ve got to earn everything you get. That’s my philosophy.”
One that has made White one of the Leafs’ top performers through the first half of the season.