Center Stage: Colin White’s Rise to the Top

Colin White

“Let’s get ’em real tired before they hit the showers, Greg!”

 

From center ice, Jerry York hollers at his associate head coach, Greg Brown. An hour or so has gone by in Practice No. 8 for Boston College men’s hockey, and York isn’t satisfied. He wants to see his special-teams units once again. No one is leaving until the puck hits the twine. It doesn’t matter to York which of the two goaltenders in net gets scored upon, or who gets the goal. He wants to find the formula he’ll use on Oct. 7—opening day in Denver—that will light the lamp.  

 

So Brown, the master of the Eagles’ power-play unit, blows his whistle. “Line up!” he yells at his Eagles, who amble over to their positions. Gold on offense, maroon on defense, 5-on-4, the sweat from an intense workout dampening the normally vibrant colors of BC’s sweaters. This particular side of the net has the No. 1 attack vs. the No. 1 kill. Brown blows the whistle again. Both sides send a man for the faceoff. Eight of the nine players stand still, looking at Brown to drop the puck on the right circle.

 

But Colin White can’t stop moving.

 

While the others stand at attention, White fidgets. Back and forth, White shuffles on his skates. He has no particular destination while he moves. He just knows he has to keep moving. Make those feet warm, keep the blood flowing, never stop.

 

The puck drops. Austin Cangelosi wins it off of the draw. He zings it to White between the circles. White backs up slightly with the puck on his stick. The righty winds up and fires. Before the goalie turned around, White was skating to the bench.

 

York took off his whistle and closed his book. Practice was now over.

 

***

 

White’s inability to sit still comes as no surprise to his mother, Chris. White hasn’t stopped moving since he was 4 years old.

 

Most BC players turn to hockey because past generations have told them to. Currently on the roster, the Eagles have two players related to coaches (a nephew and a son), two sets of brothers, two with brothers who played college hockey elsewhere, and two related to former Hobey Baker winners of York’s. White did it because he needed to find friends.

 

Though White was born in Boston, the family lived in Nebraska early on. By the time they returned to Massachusetts, everyone in the cul-de-sac had already strapped on their roller skates.

 

White had athleticism built into him. Chris played varsity tennis at Florida State, while his father Mark is a member of the Georgia Tech Hall of Fame for football and track and field. The two encouraged White and his older sister, Nicki, BC ’15, to follow in their footsteps. Nicki recalls their father training them through agility exercises, specifically the ladder drill soccer players use to build their foot speed. They’d play basketball in the driveway, too, so that White would have practice playing against the older kids.

 

White wanted to join every youth league—even if only for the uniforms. His mother recalls that White would come downstairs decked out in pads, sweaters, or stirrups, depending on the day. Chris always appeared taken aback—is there a game today she forgot about? No, White would reply, I just want to wear the uniform. Of course, that also meant he was still going outside to play with anyone who would catch his passes. He just couldn’t stop moving, but at least he didn’t keep his mother awake.

 

“Basically, he slept well at night because he was going at 100 miles per hour during the day,” Chris said.

 

But hockey? For that, White was on his own.

 

So at just 4 years old, the young White grabbed a stick. It didn’t take long for him to get serious. The next year, he began trying out for junior teams. By age 6, he’d joined the South Shore Kings, a Foxborough-based team that competes in the United States Premier Hockey League. Under the direction of coach Neil Shea, who later became a scout for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Colorado Avalanche, White blossomed. Though his particular group had seven kids who’d end up getting drafted, White stood above the rest.

 

To make White as great as he is today, Shea had to pull a lot of skills out of him. White had to learn how to handle the puck, find the right time to shoot, and make said shot powerful enough for a goal.

 

But man, could he fly. Speed like that wasn’t something Shea—or anyone—could just teach. It had to be gifted to you..

 

White outpaced his teammates in both his acceleration and how long he could sustain that pace. He could take off “like a rocket,” developing that now-NHL-level separation speed Shea says scouts drool over. Once he has the puck, White has a unique ability to sever himself from a defender’s trail and find open space. When that happens, goaltenders are doomed.

 

Sometimes, White’s Ricky Bobby-esque “I wanna go fast” mentality led to some, well, typical child moments on the sidelines. As at home, White had trouble sitting still on the bench for Shea. White constantly wanted to get into the game, so much so that he ignored his basic bodily functions.

 

Shea recalls a game in which White asked him if he could go to the bathroom during a period. This would happen often—White’s father instilled in him the importance of staying hydrated, so the young kid would constantly drink water. Shea knows kids can’t hold it even in the heat of battle, so he told White it was fine for him to run to the locker room. Shea was surprised to see that White hadn’t left. So he reminded White again that he could go to the bathroom. White replied immediately: “No, it’s okay, I’m good.”  

 

“I turned around and he was peeing in a barrel,” Shea said with a laugh. “He’ll be embarrassed I mentioned that but it perfectly sums up Colin.”

 

***

 

Still, White didn’t commit 100 percent to hockey. He had too much fun dominating the other sports. At the Noble and Greenough School, White took to the baseball and football fields. That’s where he met George Loring, who’s still his best friend today. On the gridiron, Loring, a freshman men’s lacrosse player at Harvard, and White made for a lethal combination. White was the junior varsity team’s quarterback, and Loring, a tight end, was his favorite target. He dazzled crowds with his strong arm, nimble feet, and tenacity to win. Loring believes White had a future in the sport, just like his dad.

 

“He could’ve played football at BC if he wanted to,” Loring said. “No doubt.”

 

Yet Brian Day had no intention of allowing that to happen. Day, Nobles’ boys’ hockey coach, saw White play with the South Shore Kings. He captivated Day with his fantastic sense of the ice, skating skills, athleticism, and unselfishness—the last trait an uncommon one for a star like White. Day had no choice: this kid was a top-six forward immediately. He needed him on the varsity team.

 

So Day took a chance on the eighth grader. White had always had to punch upward to succeed in hockey, just like he did back when he was 4 years old. Now, he’d have to do it on the biggest stage available to him. Day stuck White—again, an eighth grader—on a line with two of his future BC teammates—Chris Calnan and Adam Gilmour—both of whom were already in high school. Day dared White to keep up.

 

The whole school wanted to see if he could keep up, too. Nobles draws huge crowds for hockey games, according to Loring, and many wanted to see if this hotshot eighth grader could really hang with the big boys. It wouldn’t take long for them to figure it out. White barrelled down the ice in the first period to score what would be the only goal of the game—the first of 34 he’d score in two seasons with Nobles. He instantly became a school legend. And Loring knew that, even though White was always the youngest, he would always be the best. White knew how high his ceiling is going to be.

 

“He’d say back in seventh grade, ‘I’m going to the NHL,’” Loring recalled. “And we all said, ‘Alright, okay buddy, who is this kid? What’s his deal?’ And after that, and now, we’re all like, ‘Holy crap, he’s going to make it.’”

 

***

 

It wouldn’t take long for White to become a big name on the national scene. And when that happens, you get the call. After his second season, White received the opportunity to play for the United States National Development Team Program under Don Granato, now an assistant at Wisconsin.

 

White and his family sat down and weighed the benefits and consequences. The U.S. NDTP is the nation’s premier training program for American talent. White would be joining players like Auston Matthews, Matthew Tkachuk, and former BC star Noah Hanifin. These are the guys NHL general managers dream of snatching up, if the ping-pong balls can fall in their favor come Draft Day.

 

The transition would also mean entering the most stressful hockey environment in the country. White would also have to accelerate his education a year to make him more desirable to scouts and executives. Yet the challenge was just too enticing.

 

“It’s always an honor to play for your country,” White said. “You can’t take anything for granted because everyone’s out there trying to gun for you.”

 

So White packed his bags for Ann Arbor, Mich. There, he married his two biggest loves—gold and goals—into a third: the golden goal.

 

Speed and succeeding as the youngest on the ice had already been the core parts of White’s playing career. Now he added the ability to be the most clutch player on the ice at any given moment, a fact that isn’t lost on his family.    

 

“When the game goes to overtime, Colin wants the puck,” Chris said.

 

In his U-17 year, White earned the assistant captaincy while notching 64 points—33 goals and 31 assists—in 47 games. That season included a gold medal in the U-17 World Hockey Challenge. White scored in the United States’ 4-0 championship game victory over Canada (Pacific), and led the entire tournament with 18 points (10 goals, eight assists).

 

The following season, things didn’t get better for White. He suffered a wrist injury in an exhibition game against North Dakota, and, on the whole, had a rough year, according to his mom. White opened the season as the captain for the U-18 team, yet had to drop down to assistant again because of the injuries. Still, he garnered respect from his teammates as a leader, while remaining productive on the ice: White notched 54 points in 54 games.

 

Still, he needed that big moment. White and his mom felt he was due for a little something special. So, as he usually does on the ice, White took matters into his own hands.

 

United States. Finland. Overtime in the 2015 IIHF U-18 World Championship. With seven minutes to go in overtime, Charlie McAvoy, BU’s star defender, gathered the puck on a deflection off Finland goaltender Veini Vehvilainen. He dished it to Jeremy Bracco—his future BC teammate for all of five games—who crossed from the right to left circle while juggling the puck. Once Vehvilainen sold out to the left, Bracco eyed White back on the right, who wound up and fired.

 

“I knew I was going to get it, and I just hit it as hard as I could,” White said.

 

https://vimeo.com/126067883 (2:45-3:02)

 

***

 

The goal set off a classic Colin White celebration, the likes of which he has since become famous for. Against Canada in the U-20 IIHF World Championships, White broke out another big-time celly: a sustained dab that took him from the spot of his goal to the bench.

 

https://twitter.com/PeteBlackburn/status/680831966430760960?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

 

It’s all part of the goofy behavior that has made White so beloved by friends and family. He has gotten particularly close to Casey Fitzgerald, and not just because the two used to share a bathroom all the time. The two roomed together at the U.S. NDTP, where White had a propensity for losing wallets and joking about each time he lost it. He also holds a firm control over the aux cord in the Eagles’ locker room, which everyone allows him to do … even if it’s not exactly what Fitzgerald would pick.

 

“He likes some soft stuff every now and again, which I’m not okay with,” Fitzgerald said. “If you try to take it from him, he’ll get very upset. That’s a no-no.”

 

More importantly, White keeps himself grounded by not talking about hockey outside the rink. He and Loring remain incredibly close, which Loring believes has to do with the fact that they were never in-game competitors—that is, except on the golf course. White cannot stand losing on the links, yet can’t help but be loud and lose full focus. While everyone is as quiet as the crowd at Augusta National, White will joke about his stroke—not to mention heckle Loring during his. White also likes to bet on each hole. If Loring wins, they’re going again. This time, double or nothing.

 

“We’ll keep playing until he wins,” Loring said.

 

White even kept it light through draft day. It was a stressful day for the whole family. Even though they knew White would go at some point, the waiting grew to be unbearable. But when the 21st pick rolled around, a scout from the Ottawa Senators turned to White and gave him a wink. Moments later, Pierre Dorion announced his name. The dream of a seventh grader had come true.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ko6uIp307K8 (1:10 begin)

 

***

 

White had one more dream to complete. He had the choice of attending any school in the nation, or going pro immediately. After all, between BC, Boston University, Harvard, Northeastern, and more, the White family had plenty of choices right within an hour radius of his house.

 

But his mind had been made up. White had to go to the school he had dreamt of since he was a little boy, when his football-playing father took him to watch Cory Schneider and Nathan Gerbe. It was also the place from which his sister had just graduated.

 

“If you asked either of us from age 6 or 8 where we would go to college, we’d have said BC,” Nicki said.

 

BC is more than thankful White’s father chose Beacon Street over St. Botolph or Babcock. He asserted himself onto the scene in the home opener against Wisconsin. With the game already in hand, White reeled in a pass on a fast break. He crossed center ice with defenders closing in on both sides. Instead of keeping the puck glued to his stick, White allowed its momentum to keep him moving forward. He used a swim move around the two players with his stick, breaking the ankles of one in the process, and nearly his own. Once around them, White regained possession of the puck, took two steps, and fired. That goal, his linemate Ryan Fitzgerald said, is what made him realize BC had a special player.

 

“When he gets full steam, he’s impossible to stop,” Fitzgerald said.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUd8Akl2GjU (1:17-1:28)

 

And that goal was only the first of his collegiate career. He had a hat trick against Providence in the first game after his return from the U-20 Tournament. He notched a shorthanded goal against Merrimack to win a game in February.

 

But his and his father’s personal favorite came against Michigan State. White desperately tried to stave off Zach Osburn, who had cut off the middle of the ice. Now forced to the left side, White thought about a wraparound, or an assist if the trailing skater could get there in time. But White was too fast for even the puck, causing it to slip out of his control farther to his weaker side. With no one there to dish it off to, White had to wildly chuck it up and hope for the best. It clanked bar-down and into the net.

 

“Probably the best backhander I’ve had in my life,” White said.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YjJrBiKUCdM (0:33-0:44)

 

In total, White finished with 19 goals and 24 assists. His 47 points were tied for 27th in the nation, fourth among freshmen, and second on the team behind Fitzgerald. Those were numbers good enough to earn the Hockey East Rookie of the Year Award, and a Second-Team All-Conference nod.

 

Those are numbers good enough to warrant early departure to the NHL, too. Hell, four of his forward teammates did it last year: Alex Tuch, Zach Sanford, Adam Gilmour, and Miles Wood. None of them had better numbers, nor made a bigger impact on BC’s season, than White. No one would have blamed White for leaving.

 

But he had no intention of departing. It doesn’t even make sense to him why anyone thought he would.

 

“Once I decide to do something, I’m going to do it, and I’m going to do it to the best of my ability,” White said. “I’m not going to turn my back on a school when I’ve committed to them. I’m pretty loyal in that sense.”

 

For his mother, White’s decision to stay revolved largely around him getting a degree. One year in college means a difficult time ever returning to complete his academic work. If it means two or three years total before heading out, so be it—plenty of BC hockey players have gotten their degree in that time. If it means riding the wave for the full four, that’s not out of the question.

 

For his teammates and head coach, White’s return is about unfinished business. The Eagles had a successful season by anyone’s standards last year. They won the Beanpot in dramatic fashion. They took home the Hockey East Regular Season Title. They even made it back to the Frozen Four for the 25th time in program history, the most of any school. What more can you want?

 

That’s not how White is wired. Anything that doesn’t end in a championship is a failure. After all, the Eagles began as the preseason No. 1 team in 2015. You don’t get a trophy for falling in the national semifinal.

 

In that sense, it makes White the ideal player for York. Off the ice, he is committed to academics, is loyal to friends and family, and always has a big smile on his face. On the ice, White presents himself as the textbook diagrams of how to be a two-way center in the NHL. He has superb reach, he can outskate anyone, he doesn’t fear players that are older and bigger, and he always comes through in the clutch.

 

“He’s a terrific billboard for what a BC hockey player should be,” York said.

 

It all starts with constantly moving your feet in practice. Use that extra time to make friendships, work on skills, or just stay energized. Don’t let the whistle dictate what you’re doing. Always be moving.

 

And White—well, he just can’t stop.

 

About Michael Sullivan 259 Articles
Michael Sullivan is the editor-in-chief of The Heights. After shouting out this space to his mother for two years as sports editor, he'd like to give one to his dad. You can follow him on Twitter @MichaelJSully.