Ask a midget or high school goaltender to define the term balance, and he'll probably say it's a skill that allows him to stay in control of his body when making a save.
Ask a junior goalie that has just completed his first season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League the same question and he might reply with a much different answer.
For soft-spoken Victoriaville Tigres goalie Brandon Whitney, the true essence of balance was discovered in the blink of an eye. When the preseason ended and the games started to count, he realized it wasn't just a technical skill, but an important life skill, as well.
"I think being prepared every night and not getting lost in games mentally. But being focused for every single game was a must for me." -- Brandon Whitney
Living away from home for the first time, Whitney quickly learned the importance of better strength training, conditioning and nutrition, how to stay focused on his studies, and numerous other elements of his new daily routine that he needed to balance in order to succeed in the crease.
Whitney, who is blessed with a 6-foot-4 1/2 and 196-pound frame, began his QMJHL journey as a graduate of the Acadia minor hockey program. He played for the NKEC Titans in high school and at the midget level for the Valley Wildcats, with his biggest accomplishment coming as a member of Team Atlantic during the 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Winnipeg.
But that paled in comparison to the type of talent he faced in the QMJHL this season.
"It was tough at first," Whitney said of his transition from midget hockey to the QMJHL. "But I think with the help of Dan [Frechette], it wasn't too bad."
Frechette, Victoriaville's esteemed goalie coach, has quite an impressive track record. He helped turn the New York Islanders' Kevin Poulin into a top-flight NHL prospect, and has molded Vancouver Canucks draft pick David Honzik over the past few seasons as well. This season, however, it was Whitney that blossomed under Frechette's guidance, and he earned him a reputation as one of the league's best rookies.
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Those accolades stemmed from a balanced approach of not only utilizing his large frame, but combining it with impressive quickness and natural reflexes. More importantly, Whitney was allowed to rely on those assets to play in a more comfortable and relaxed manner as the season rolled along.
"Dan always emphasizes quickness in my play," Whitney said. "So we usually worked on that in practice, and toward the end of the season it was balanced with more of a focus on my positioning.
"Dan would always say to have grit in every play, to take every moment play-by-play, and to not think ahead," Whitney said. "I really do believe that he’s one of the best goalie coaches I’ve ever had.”
In 36 regular-season games, Whitney posted a 22-4-4 record with a 2.74 goals-against average and .896 save percentage. His play behind a formidable Tigres squad earned him a spot in the Canadian Hockey League’s Top Prospects Game, where he impressed scouts by stopping 11 of 12 shots for Team Cherry.
Riding an emotional high from that performance in February, Whitney's game soared in the second half. But things crumbled in the playoffs and ended with the Tigres being swept in a first-round QMJHL playoff series against the Baie-Comeau Drakkar.
Giving him a bit of a lift, however, Whitney was rewarded for his work by earning a spot on Team Canada for the World Under-18 Championship, to be held April 12-22 in the Czech Republic.
He also earned the No. 2 spot in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American goalies for the 2012 NHL Draft, a move up one spot from the mid-term rankings.
Great guidance from his goalie coach aside, Whitney proved that there was more to his success than just a big body and impressive quickness. He also had the calm and even-keeled demeanor to bring a consistent effort to the Tigres' crease.
"I think being prepared every night and not getting lost in games mentally," Whitney said when asked to explain the source of his success. "But being focused for every single game was a must for me."
Now he's focused on helping Canada at the World U-18 tournament, rather than letting his spot in the final ranking distract him from playing his best hockey at the tournament.
"Right now I'm trying not to think too much about the draft," Whitney said. "The draft is the draft; it doesn't really make a difference for a goalie. Poulin played a lot of games last year as a fifth-round pick. Ryan Miller was a fifth-round pick as well, and he has more than established himself as a goalie. The draft will be fun and everything, but at the end of the day, wherever you get drafted, you get drafted."