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Hockey background helps White dominate ice dancing

by Tal Pinchevsky

Ensconced in a suite at Vancouver's Rogers Arena, longtime hockey player Charlie White had a great seat for the gold-medal game at the 2010 Winter Olympics. So did a group of neighboring Canadians, who shot some icy stares at the Michigan-born White when the United States tied the game with 25 seconds remaining in regulation time. But after Canada won 3-2 in overtime to take the gold medal, White knew he was in the line of fire.

"As soon as they scored, I just jetted out of there. I knew I had it coming," White said. "It was a great game. Being able to see them go at it like that was really cool."

Charlie White chose figure skating over hockey but says the skills he learned while playing the game helped turn him into an Olympic medalist and world champion. (Photos: Gerard Chataigneau and NBC Sports)

Once the agony of losing in overtime passed, Americans hailed their runner-up hockey team for helping to grow the game in the United States. They did the same for White, whose silver medal with partner Meryl Davis in the 2010 Olympic ice dancing competition has made him among his sport's most prominent ambassadors. It was a huge moment for the University of Michigan student and defending world champion -- one that might not have happened had he not grown up playing hockey.

"Representing the U.S. was a real honor. Being able to win the silver medal on top of that was amazing. Up to that point, we hadn't even won a world medal," White told "One of the things Meryl and I are better at than other teams is our athleticism and our speed across the ice. That's directly attributable to my past in hockey."

Most fans first became aware of White's competitive streak at the 2010 Winter Games. But the 25-year-old demonstrated that fighting spirit long before arriving in Vancouver.

It developed over a childhood split between hockey and figure skating. As a playmaking center, White competed in the Detroit metro area playing AAA hockey for the Honeybaked Hockey Club, a prominent local organization that has sent more than 50 players to the NCAA ranks and seen 18 former players drafted by NHL teams since 2000 -- including Ryan Kesler, Tim Gleason and Jim Slater.

While White developed world-class skating skills that would eventually earn him Olympic glory, he was also playing hockey at an incredibly high level, all while balancing both sports with school. Already established as a teen as one of the country's top junior skaters, White won a state hockey championship as well. But when it came time to choose one sport, he knew his future was in ice dancing with Davis; it's an on-ice relationship that remains one of the longest lasting in the country. White's hockey teammates were more than understanding.

"I was such a good skater that they really respected what figure skating was able to do for my hockey. I think that led them to respect figure skating. Through the years, I've been in contact with the guys and they continue to be very supportive," said White, who followed up Olympic silver in 2010 by winning gold at the World Championships in 2011, the first by an American team in ice dancing. "They were very understanding when I decided to step away from hockey."

"I grew up watching Steve Yzerman and [Sergei] Fedorov; later on [Nicklas] Lidstrom and all the Stanley Cups. It was really awesome for a kid who loved hockey. It was always so nice to step away from figure skating and school with hockey. To this day I'm still a huge fan."
-- World-class figure skater Charlie White

The decision obviously paid off for White, but it didn't dull his passion for hockey. Though he no longer plays the game, he's still as passionate as ever about it. After all, he grew up with the Mighty Ducks movies, NHL video games, and a Red Wings team that was the class of the NHL.

"I grew up watching Steve Yzerman and [Sergei] Fedorov; later on [Nicklas] Lidstrom and all the Stanley Cups," White said. "It was really awesome for a kid who loved hockey. It was always so nice to step away from figure skating and school with hockey. To this day I'm still a huge fan."

That's why it's no surprise that the kid from Detroit kept an eye out for his favorite NHL players when he finally fulfilled his lifelong dream of skating at the Olympics. With most athletes congregating in the Olympic Village dining hall, White took notice of some of the NHL players who came in and out of the common area -- with a particularly keen eye on the Red Wings players who came in. White shared a unique experience with some of his favorite athletes, making an already remarkable experience even more memorable.

"It was great because they [hockey players] had an interest in what we were doing too," White said. "They loved being part of the Olympic experience and stepping away from their normal professional careers. They really enjoyed soaking it in. Having that experience was really awesome."

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