The Norfolk Admirals, the ECHL affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers, failed to make the playoffs their first season back in the ECHL since 2000. Despite the outcome forward Steven Whitney had a season to be proud of. He compiled 55 points in 66 games with Norfolk while ending the year with a plus/minus of positive 10.
The Boston College Alumnus pointed out the key to his success was a total team effort saying, “I think our team just stuck together. We had some rough times and some stretches, but a team sticking together helps out everybody. We never gave up on making the playoffs. Just sticking together as a team makes it easier for everyone individually.”
A few seasons ago when Whitney turned pro he was known mostly for his offensive ability. As his pro career progressed he started to tweak his game and started playing smarter in the defensive zone. This became transparent this season as the Reading, Massachusetts native fine-tuned his defensive game. Someone who took notice of this was Hockey Ops intern DJ Williamson who said, “When he played in the AHL he was always an offensive guy. He would play a little bit of defense, but he wasn’t the first guy to block a shot or aggressively backcheck to try and prevent a scoring chance. Where now he is playing both sides of the ice. He’s blocking shots and playing on the penalty kill at times. He’s really embraced the game. He does everything you want him to do on the ice.”
After an injury plagued him in 2014-2015 which limited his ice time to only 23 games in Florida with the Everblades, Whitney’s breakout year proved to be a confidence booster. The 25-year-old hinted at a total team effort, “It feels good. It’s tough it has to end now. I think we had a good team in the second half and we could have made an impact in the playoffs. Obviously we had a rough start which kind of affected our points, but the way we came together as a team and the end result as a team I thought we were right there with the best teams in the league.”
Last off-season Whitney worked on his endurance and play around the net. With 23 goals the work he put in last off-season spring boarded his season in Norfolk. “It paid off a lot. I think not feeling too tired if I get stuck for an extra ten second shift helps, but I think around the net this year I just worked on keep my head up, timing and going to the net so I’m just not standing there by the defense. Just being able to see when the puck is coming to the net makes a big difference. Having good timing so when you’re getting there the puck is coming off the goalie or hitting off something. If you time it enough, it’s just going to be sitting there for you.” said Whitney on how he improved on his endurance and network.
Even though Norfolk was eliminated from playoff contention this season going into the last few games Whitney and company still competed for pride, each other, and possible contracts for next season as he said, “It’s still professional hockey and guys are trying to get jobs and show coaches what they can do for next season. We’re a pretty close knit group. We’re going to have some end of the year festivities, a couple wins would make that a lot more fun, but you don’t want to hurt another guy’s chances of playing well because you’re pretty much going to be selfish if you’re not working your hardest.”
The right-handed shot took some time out to address Norfolk’s loyal fan base who stuck by them during the transition back to ECHL hockey. “We feed off their energy. We’re a lot more jumpy and excited to come to the rink when it’s packed and for the most part that’s been awesome this year for attendance. We definitely feed off their energy and the more they know that the more they come. It definitely helps a lot when they’re showing up and cheering for us.”
After Whitney’s 55 point season and improved D-zone play hopefully there is a roster spot for him on next year’s Admirals squad or perhaps an AHL team. All-in-all Whitney became a better player this year as he shined in a Norfolk uniform.