Washington might be swept up in the excitement surrounding the Capitals’ quest for their first Stanley Cup, but one of the players dating back to D.C.’s dog days of hockey isn’t making any special plans to watch what could be a championship-clinching game tonight.
“I don’t watch a lot of hockey,” says Tony White. “Maybe a little every now and again.”
It’s not that White, the former NHLer from Grand Falls-Windsor, loathes the game, but it’s changed since he last played in the 70s, and he’s not a big fan of today’s product.
“It’s a bit of a track meet now,” White said. “You flip the puck in and out and you chase it down. The guys today are so fast.
“But that’s the evolution of the game. Everything now is 100 miles per hour, and if it’s not that fast, it doesn’t work.”
White, a Newfoundland and Labrador Hockey Hall of Famer, was the fourth player from this province to play in the NHL (behind Alex Faulkner, Joe Lundrigan and Doug Grant), appearing in five games for the Caps during their inaugural 1974-75 season.
“I loved playing hockey, and I wanted to play in the NHL… That said, the losing was tough to take. Even though I was 21, with lots of energy, constantly losing like that is not a great thing to go through.”
Lundrigan made three starts for the Caps that season, marking the first time two Newfoundlanders played for the same NHL team in the same season.
And what a year that was. Washington managed only eight wins that season, setting the standard for fewest victories in a single NHL season.
White secured full-time NHL employment the next year, appearing in all 80 games for Washington and enjoying a banner season with 25 goals and 42 points. Those totals stood as the best single-season NHL performance by a player from this province until Michael Ryder came along and tallied 25 goals and 63 points as a Montreal Canadiens’ rookie in 2003-04.
But it was otherwise another frustrating season for the Capitals, who could muster only 11 victories, fewest in the league. The equally hapless Kansas City Scouts had 12 wins that year.
“I loved playing hockey, and I wanted to play in the NHL,” says White, now 64 and long retired as a firefighter in Vancouver, where he’s lived for over 30 years. “And you’re expected to do your job to the best of your ability, just like any other job.
“That said, the losing was tough to take. With the first 25 games of the season, you’re just trying to get your feet under you. The next 25 kind of determines what your year will be like. And when you’re still losing 25 games after that, well, it can wear on you.
“Even though I was 21, with lots of energy, constantly losing like that is not a great thing to go through.”
White played virtually all of 1976-77 in Washington as well, but his production dropped off to 12 goals and 21 points in 72 games.
He spent the next year in the American Hockey League, with the Hershey Bears, with one game in Washington, and all of 1978-79 with Springfield of the AHL.
A free agent, White hoped for a new start when he signed with the Minnesota North Stars. But the Stars had just merged with the Cleveland Barons, and any available jobs in Minny evaporated.
He would appear in six games with Minnesota, spent two seasons with Oklahoma City of the Central Hockey League before winding up his career with a couple of seasons in Germany.
White liked his time in Europe, and is planning a retirement vacation back there soon.
As for D.C., he’s never been back to the U.S. capital since his playing days.
Interestingly, White started and ended his junior/pro career with a Herder Memorial Trophy championship.
He was just 17 when he made the 1971-72 powerhouse Grand Falls Cataracts of the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League, a squad that featured Hall of Famers Al Bargery, Jimmy Dawe, Al Dwyer, Frank Finlayson, Harry Katrynuk, Leo Murphy, Harold Stanley, Jim Temple, import goalie Jean-Guy Morissette and import coach Marc Pichette.
Dawe centred White on the left side with another youngster from Grand Falls, Jim Munch, on the right side.
Two other highly-touted young stars from the Paper Town — Don Howse and Terry French — also played on that Herder-winning squad. White, Munch, Howse, French and Terry Ryan, who by then was playing for the Hamilton Red Wings junior squad, represented the finest crop of minor hockey players to come up together this province has ever seen.
Like White, Howse played in the NHL, Ryan in the old World Hockey Association, French was a junior star with the Ottawa 67s and second-round draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens, and Munch played professionally in Germany.
After the Herder, the Cataracts picked up Alex and Jack Faulkner and Les Calder for their Allan Cup series against the Barrie Flyers.
“Pichette was going to sit me because I think, being 17, they might have thought I’d be overwhelmed going up against veteran guys, many of whom had played pro,” White said of the Flyers.
“But Pichette threw me in there the second game. I didn’t set the world on fire, but I must have shown something because I played the rest of the tournament.
“Next thing you know, I got a phone call saying Kitchener had picked me in the overage draft.”
Watching the Allan Cup series was Mike Penny, scouting for the Ontario Hockey Association’s Kitchener Rangers (Penny, by the way, would go on to become assistant general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and general manager of the AHL’s St. John’s Maple Leafs).
White played two years in Kitchener, putting together back-to-back 53-point seasons. Following his second year in Kitchener, he was drafted in the 10th round, 161st overall, by Washington.
White would play only one year in the minors before cracking Washington’s roster as a full-time forward.
Following his professional career, White returned to Newfoundland and played the 1982-83 senior league season with the Cataracts. The next year, he suited up for the Corner Brook Royals, and tied for third place in league scoring with Port aux Basques Mariners import John Linseman.
His final year of hockey came in 1984-85, and he helped the Royals win the Herder and advance through the first two rounds of the Allan Cup held in Corner Brook.
However, White was unavailable for the Allan Cup final after learning he had been accepted into the Vancouver Fire Department.
After losing the first three games of the series at Humber Gardens, the Thunder Bay Twins rallied from a 3-0 deficit, stunning the hometown Royals 5-4 in Game 7 of the Canadian senior hockey championship final.