Originally created 03/08/06

Lynx again send Whitwell the Bat-Signal



Financial adviser by day, defender of the blue line by night.

If it sounds like the life of some kind of comic book superhero, then John Whitwell needs a cape.

Whitwell, who works full-time for Wachovia Securities since retiring from the Augusta Lynx in 2002, has found himself answering the figurative red telephone again and again this season.

When times are tough and the team is in need, as it is for tonight's home game against Pensacola, Whitwell goes home from his day job and dons the skates and sweater for Augusta.

"He's really helped us through some tough situations," Lynx coach Bob Ferguson said. "When you have a guy like John right in the area, it's definitely an advantage."

Whitwell has seen action in three separate stints this season, playing in seven games when Augusta was aching for defensemen.

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound blueliner is expected to rejoin the team because Eric Lundberg was recalled to the American Hockey League on Tuesday.

"When he walks into the locker room, you don't have guys saying, 'Who's this guy? Who's this bank worker?'" Ferguson said. "They know he can play. They know his experience. They know he's a proven player, and they can see right away that he can help us. Players welcome it when he joins the team."

After playing in 278 games for the Lynx from 1998 to 2002 - he held the team record for most games played until last month - Whitwell went three ECHL seasons without seeing any action.

So his return to the ice this season, even in short spurts, was asking a lot.

"I had to mull it over," he said. "It wasn't something I'd done in a few years, and it never really entered my mind that I would go back and play."

Whitwell hasn't just filled out the bench either. He has played regularly and picked up 14 penalty minutes.

He assisted on the game-tying goal against Gwinnett on Feb. 14, a victory that sparked the Lynx to a five-game winning streak. He's also been in two shootouts.

Last month, Whitwell was with the Lynx for four games in a five-day span - not an easy stretch for 30-year-old legs.

"That was a little tough; the day after I was pretty tired and a little sore, that's for sure," Whitwell said.

Ferguson has asked Whitwell to work out with the team whenever possible and to try to stay close to playing shape, just in case.

"I skate once a week in the men's league, so I'm not exactly in mid-season form," Whitwell said. "But I think I'm in fair shape."

Because he now has played in more than five games this season, Whitwell is eligible to play for the team in the playoffs, which start the second week of April.

"I'm sure down the stretch we're going to need him," Ferguson said. "In a perfect world we'll get him in a few more games and by playoff time, hopefully we can find a way to use him more regularly."

Married with a 1-year-old daughter, Whitwell said his day job remains the top priority, though he enjoys being at least a small part of the Lynx's playoff push.

His family likes it, too.

"My wife loves going to the games, and my daughter, we now can say that she's seen me play," he said. "Even if she never remembers it, I think that will mean a lot to me someday."

The fans' response to his contributions when he's played has been sizeable, audible and appreciated.

"There's definitely some identity there," Ferguson said. "He's been with the franchise since the beginning, and that's a big part of it. The fans identify with him, and the fact that he settled in Augusta after playing speaks volumes for what he thinks of the area - and for what the area thinks of him."

Reach Steve Sanders at (706) 823-3216 or steven.l.sanders@augustachronicle.com.