Originally created 02/08/02

Augusta honors Whitwell



You've never been to an Augusta Lynx hockey game, and maybe the name John Whitwell doesn't ring a bell.

Chances are, you know him after all.

He's read to your children at school. He's visited them in the hospital. He's helped raise money for local charities. He's taught hockey fundamentals to aspiring players of all ages. He even spent a day on Thurmond Lake last summer as a guest counselor at a camp for diabetic children.

And for all he has given to the community since joining the Lynx for their inaugural season in 1998, the 26-year-old defenseman has been equally giving on the ice.

"He very seldom puts himself ahead of anyone else, and I don't think you can find a better quality in a good teammate," said injured Lynx goalie Judd Lambert, who now serves as an assistant coach with the team. "He's done so many unselfish things I can't even think of any. He's just a good all-around guy and definitely one of my best friends. It's been a real pleasure playing with him."

Which is why tonight's game against the Greenville Grrrowl has been designated John Whitwell Night.

The Lynx will honor the fourth-year pro for recently playing his 250th game - the most by any player in club history - and also for his four years of service to the community.

Augusta Mayor Bob Young announced Thursday that today will be proclaimed "John Whitwell Day" in the city.

"John has been a huge part of the Lynx organization, but beyond that, he's been a huge part of the community," Lynx general manager Mike Pierson said. "He's been a foundation to helping build local hockey programs from ground zero and is the reason why we have the successful program we have today."

When he showed up in Augusta in October 1988 for his first pro training camp, Whitwell never envisioned himself becoming one of the cornerstones of the franchise.

After graduating from Hamilton College in western New York in 1998, he turned down a job on Wall Street to pursue a career in hockey. At the time, Whitwell figured he'd play a couple of years and then begin life in the real world.

"I was planning on playing one or two years at the most," said Whitwell, a native of Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. "But I've had so much fun here, it's been hard to walk away from it."

Along the way, he's established strong roots in Augusta. It was here he met his future wife, Shannon Hayes - a nursing student at the Medical College of Georgia - more than two years ago. The couple will be married in September.

"I like the city a lot, and the fans here have been a big part of that," Whitwell said. "I also met (Shannon) here, and we're having our wedding here this summer. We've considered settling here after I stop playing because we've enjoyed ourselves so much here."

Whitwell now admits that decision could come soon. Should he play in all 25 of the Lynx's remaining games, he'll finish the season with 278 career games, which would make him a veteran next season.

This season, the ECHL's veteran rule limits teams to carry up to four players with 240 or more professional games. While that rule could change to allow teams to carry more veterans next season, Whitwell is realistic about his chances or re-signing with the Lynx next season.

"I'm not really sure what the team's plans are as far as signing a veteran like me," said Whitwell, who has 19 goals and 80 points in 253 games with the Lynx. "Usually, veteran spots are slotted for producers - guys who score - so we'll see."

Whitwell also isn't sure how much longer his left knee will hold up. He had surgery to repair torn ligaments during the summer, and it has given him trouble since he sprained it in a game against Columbia in late December.

"I'm not quite sure if I'd keep it going anyway, because the knee has become a daily bother," he said. "I'll have to see how it goes this summer and see if it improves."

Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425.