There are birthday presents, and then there’s the prize that Travis White unwrapped on Wednesday.
On the same day he turned 21 years of age, White committed to play his college hockey at Ferris State University (CCHA) next year - a gift that is destined to keep on giving for the rest of his life.
The Traverse City North Stars’ veteran defenseman has been decorated with numerous North American Hockey League (NAHL) all-star appearances, a pair of All-NAHL North Division honors, and has been a catalyst for a Stars franchise that has posted a 100-53-13 regular season mark since he was acquired from St. Louis before the 2008-09 season.
He’s the fourth player who competed in last month’s NAHL Top Prospects Tournament to commit to a Division I program after the event.
“It feels good, no doubt - a big relief,” said White, a Sterling Heights, Mich. product who has played in the NAHL for four seasons in preparation for his Big Rapids foray. “I talked to them at the NAHL Top Prospects event in Ann Arbor, then again over this past weekend. They offered, and I accepted.”
White has been a rock on the Traverse City blue line since arriving, but has taken his offensive numbers to new heights in 2010-11. Through 47 games, he has six goals and 29 assists, including 18 power play assists - third among all NAHL defenders.
“Travis understands his role as well as anyone,” said Stars head coach Anthony Palumbo, who pulled the trigger on the trade that brought White to Traverse City in the summer of 2008. “And as his role has evolved, he’s stepped up to fill it. He has a great feel for where he needs to be on the ice, and he’s an elite penalty-killer - as good a penalty-killer as anyone I’ve ever coached. I am absolutely thrilled for Travis to get this opportunity. He’s definitely earned it.”
White has 12 goals and 65 assists in 196 regular-season contests since the start of the 2007-08 season, and is plus-43 over that span. He’s also appeared in 26 career playoff games, with a goal, five assists, and a plus-15 in those outings - and has sported the captain’s "C" the past two seasons.
Palumbo says the track record speaks for itself.
“Travis has won a Bantam national championship, a Midget national championship and a Junior national championship,” he pointed out. “It’s not a coincidence. He has a will to win, and the ability to impose that will. It’s also no coincidence that the North Stars franchise has experienced a great deal of success since he’s been here. He’s a winner, a great team guy, and that's contagious.”
While many players spend years in Bantam and Midget programs en route to juniors, White has developed in the NAHL, winning the 2007-08 Robertson Cup title with the St. Louis Bandits. He says the experience has been as instructive off the ice, as it has been formative on it.
“Four years of doing this has shown me all the little things that guys have done right and wrong,” he explained. “That helps you mold yourself into the kind of player you want to become. I’ve also has a chance to mature physically at this level, which has hopefully prepared me for the next.”
White will also be among friends and former teammates at Ferris. Three North Stars alums - Kyle Bonis, Garrett Thompson and Andy Huff - are already sporting FSU sweaters, with former TC goalie C.J. Motte also committed to the Bulldogs. A pair of White’s current defensive partners - Connor Schmidt and Zack Dorer - have also committed to play in Big Rapids, starting in 2012-13.
“Obviously, there’s a comfort level already knowing so many of the guys,” White added. “I talked to Andy and Garrett and Kyle, and we’re all excited to get to play together again at the next level.”
Like any player who achieves a lifelong dream of playing Division I collegiate hockey, White’s "thank-you" list is as long as his roster of accomplishments.
“My parents have been there from Day 1,” he said. “It’s not something I could have done without their support. I’ve also had a great housing family in The Hilts all three years I’ve been here - they’re great billets and great people. Also some coaches have really helped me along the way, like my Midget coach, Brian Burke, Coach Palumbo and the entire North Stars organization - a lot of people who have helped me develop on and off the ice. I’m grateful for all of it.”