In his professor-like spectacles and neatly pressed suit, Todd White
could pass for Matt Damon in the movie, "The Talented Mr. Ripley," about a master of disguises and imposter lifestyles.
Take a look at his Clarkson University academic and playing resume and current decade-long NHL run as a pesky and productive center, however, and those off-ice and on-ice contrasts morph into the perfect picture of the long-running successes of the talented Mr. White.
A poster boy for persistence in the classroom and throughout his hockey career, White, now in his third season with the Atlanta Thrashers
, is a rare breed: He graduated with a double major in accounting and finance, reached NCAA heights, and established a long -- and lucrative -- pro career.
"I double majored in finance and accounting," White said of his academic run in Potsdam, N.Y., the geographic outer limits of the 12-team ECAC Hockey League. "It's not something that even at that time I thought I'd be doing."
What White did know early on is that he would attend Clarkson. What he didn't know is how much those four years would provide the foundation for an NHL career.
"It all started when I was teaching hockey school as a 16-year-old kid in Ontario," White said. "The assistant coach for Clarkson was there. He told me, 'You should come to a game sometime and see it.' It was my first year playing Tier 2 junior hockey. I fell in love with the place. As soon as they started recruiting me it was a done deal. It was an hour and a half from my house (in Kanata, Ont.). Clarkson was top of the league; in '91 they went to the Frozen Four. There's always a great tradition there."
White helped the Golden Knights enhance that tradition, leading them to the NCAA Tournament three consecutive years, from 1995-97. Add in 1998 and '99, after he graduated, and that five-year run remains unequalled in program history.
"My first year we struggled a bit, but got progressively better and better," White said. "Learned how to play defense. Then Jim Roque and Ron Rolston transferred from Lake (Superior) State. They brought that winning atmosphere. We never won it all, but definitely improved and were the No. 1 (East) seed my last year -- one game away from that final four.
"I came in my junior year and was able to be the go-to guy on the offensive side. Jim Roque really knew the defensive part of the game. That gave a new system we incorporated. I embraced that; a lot of the scoring chances came off playing well defensively."
Along with those three chances to bring Clarkson a still-elusive first national title.
White -- and Clarkson -- came closest his last college game, in 1997, after the Golden Knights were ousted in the NCAA's first round in 1995 by Lake State, and the second round by Boston University in 1996.
"The biggest game was obviously being one game from the Frozen Four," White said of the 5-4 loss to Colorado College his senior year. "But just playing (at Clarkson) and being so close to home was really great fun. All the St. Lawrence games were enjoyable; it was a huge, huge rivalry, just nine miles away. I think I was 9-1 career against them."
White was captain in 1996-97, earned ECAC Player of the Year, and was named a Hobey Baker Award finalist. He was also voted Co-Academic All-America honors from the Sports Information Directors of America. His 38 goals that season still rank tops in NCAA play since, with only Chris Drury
(1997) and Ryan Potulny
(2006) matching White's '97 goal total. He remains fourth all-time in Clarkson scoring with a career total of 90-108-198 in 142 games.
The undrafted White's 72 and 74 points his junior and senior seasons, respectively, put him on NHL radar screens.
"What I learned at Clarkson definitely prepared me to basically battle and battle to make it at this level," he said. "If you're not putting up 50 goals a year, you need to know how to play both ends of the ice."
White began the battle of persistence the next five years to earn his current niche in the NHL.
"I was signed as a free agent after my four (college) years with Chicago," said White who went on a five-year see-saw ride between the NHL and IHL before signing with Ottawa as a free agent in July 2000.
"In all my stops in the minors," he said, "the last year and a half I really tried to learn the other parts of the game. When I got to Ottawa I changed my game so I wasn't a prolific scorer, but be a responsible two-way centerman. I think that's my strength at this level. I tried to prove right away that I could be trusted and responsible as a player. (Coach) Jacques Martin really took to that, and really gave me a chance as the (2000-01) season moved along. It was fourth line, but the next year I really got a great opportunity playing with Daniel Alfredsson
. I think I got to be more of a playmaker then and set up the off guys."
What needs consistent attention?
"If there's a fault, I care too much about trying to stop a goal rather than going on offense. Maybe I play a little too cautious at times."
"What I learned at Clarkson definitely prepared me to basically battle and battle to make it at this level. If you're not putting up 50 goals a year, you need to know how to play both ends of the ice." -- Todd White
After three full seasons with Ottawa, and following the lockout, White signed a two-year contract with the Minnesota Wild
, and then signed his current four-year deal with Atlanta in the summer of 2007. He had a career-best 73 points last season, but his productivity has diminished to 4-14-18 in 46 games so far in the 2009-10 season. In 616 games, he has 137 goals and 234 points. He'll turn 35 in May.
"Not really making the League until I was 25," he said, "gives me a lot of legs left. I want to keep playing as long as I can. I still want to win a Stanley Cup.
"Even though I'm smaller, I think I can come up with plays and the puck by being smarter and stronger in the time frame of the battle."
No doubt, White's smarts will serve him well in retirement.
"I often think about what I want to do and where I want to live and all those questions," he said. "I like to think I've got a bunch of years to think about it. I'd like to stay in the game in some capacity -- the business side or whatever. But those jobs are few and far between. I think I have a lot to offer, but you need to be lucky to get one. If not, I'll get into the business sector and do something with my degree."
What is the Clarkson link to White's life -- and his advice for younger players?
"I learned a lot of life skills there, how to treat people," he said. "Most of all, I learned how to learn. Going in I was kind of smart, but didn't know how I ticked and how to become a better person.
"I feel very, very fortunate. I think of all the guys I've played with, how many would give anything to be where I am. I never take a day for granted. For young guys, hard work and trying to do the right thing and learning the game the best you can with coaches you have, a lot of guys can realize their dreams."