White signs with Hat Tricks, continues to prove doubters wrong

Zach White has gone from being a star at Curry College to the professional hockey ranks.

Zach White has gone from being a star at Curry College to the professional hockey ranks.

Curry College / Sarah Hobday photography

MILFORD - Doubt has plagued Zach White throughout his hockey career. A 2014 Foran High graduate, White never second-guessed his ability — it was battling past the perceived weaknesses in his game held by others.

“I was always told I wouldn’t play in college,” said White, who signed on Oct. 15 to play forward with the Danbury Hat Tricks in the Federal Prospects Hockey League, a 10-team Single-A federation for the 2020-21 season. “Or they said I definitely wouldn’t play after college. I was too small, not skilled enough.”

White, 24, a 2019 Curry College standout, signed to play for Dogs de Cholet in France last season, the second highest level of play in that country. The 5-foot-10, 160-pounder led the team in goals with 16, which was seventh best in the league.

The want-to that White displays on the ice is what first impressed Bohn.

“The courage that he plays with at the pace that he plays with (are noteworthy),” Hat Tricks coach Anthony Bohn said. “Zach darts in and out and he is doing it at a high rate of speed. Because of that speed, he can create offensively and defensively. In today’s NHL and hockey, it is all about retrievals and turnovers at your feet, creating havoc that way. It is a piece of the puzzle that we feel is necessary and we are happy to have him.”

Danbury won the Eastern title with a 29-12-0 record in 2019 beating out the Elmira (N.Y.) Enforcers, Watertown (N.Y.), the Mentor (Ohio) Icebreakers and the Delaware Thunder.

White said: “I wanted to play here in America, I knew I could always go back to Europe because I had a pretty good season. I ended up signing a PTO (permission to tryout) for the Peoria (Ill.) Rivermen in the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL). Only five teams weren’t shutdown due to the pandemic, but Peoria wasn’t one of them.

“I turned to Danbury, and they signed me. They told me (before he left for Peoria) that if things don’t work out we’d love to have you. This is almost better; I get to be home.”

Before going to Peoria, White attended a free agent camp, where he made an impact on Hat Tricks assistant coach Steve Mele.

“Once we put our eyes on him, it was wow,” Bohn said. “We think this is a player who can help our group. He had been offered to play at the SPHL level. When things imploded there, it was a no brainer. We were fortunate that it worked out that way. If he continues on the trajectory path that he is on, I don’t think we will have him too long. I think he will be moving up the ranks.”

White enjoyed playing in France.

“I left end of August, came back in April,” he said. “I lived in Cholet, France with a teammate, Ryan Tait, who played for Providence. It was awesome, a small little town. It’s weird. Think about here, you get off the highway and see towns and everything. In France, you travel and it’s just land. You get off a highway and travel down the road and there is a little city. It was a great experience, everywhere in France.”

The ice surface was perfect.

“There is a lot more ice out there, that is for sure,” White said. “Olympic-size ice (200x100) is bigger than ice here (NHL 200x85). I think it helped me a lot. Even in France, players are massive. You get used to it. There is more time in space, I can do more, get open, make the passes. Here, you work that much harder for your piece of the ice.”

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID happened right as my season was ending (April),” White said. “We played a full season but playoffs were cut short and we only played one game. They ended up moving the top team up to the higher division and moved the lowest team in the top division down (like relegation in European soccer leagues).

“Everyone took it seriously. Kids weren't going to school, everyone was basically in lockdown unless you are an essential worker.”

It was time to come home.

“So, everyone pretty much had to leave and go back to their home country or place of living,” White said. “It took me two days to get back to the U.S. My flight got changed twice. The flight I was able to get was from Paris to LA, then the next morning I went from LA to Boston then drove home.”

White was named to the Connecticut High School Coaches Association All-State team his sophomore, junior and senior campaigns, was an All-League selection following his junior and senior seasons, and made the New Haven Register/GameTimeCT All-Area and All-State teams along with the Connecticut Post All-Star team.

“I got to play hockey with my friends, I wouldn’t change anything about high school,” White said. “I didn’t know about Juniors, I just kept working it. My family isn’t a hockey family, Me and my brother (Matt a goalie) were the first to play. He did football and lacrosse in college at Dean College.

“I got to play lacrosse in college,” he said. “Hockey was something I loved to do, then I took up lacrosse and it was so much fun, and I made some great friends. I was captain for the last two seasons of lacrosse (senior in hockey). I took care of the face off, but with the FOGO rule (faceoff; get off) and not being able to continue as a midfielder or attacker I knew I was done.”

The Connecticut High School Coaches Association Division II Most Valuable Player in 2014, White has previously played junior hockey for the Brewster Bulldogs and the New York Applecore in the Eastern Hockey League.

Bohn said: “Zach is somebody who does a good job to position himself to score. And with that, his release is in his favor. Zach is a smart, high-IQ end player. He puts himself in spots where he gets away quickly and efficiently and he will see be a success because of that.”

White will stay in hockey shape.

“Steve Valiquette (New York Rangers) and Nolan Schaefer (San Jose Sharks) are a couple of NHL goalies and they took me on to help them with their Clear Sight Development camp for goaltenders at Bridgeport’s Wonderland of Ice,” White said.

“I work out in the morning, then go work at Clear Sight for a couple of hours. That is kind of my day. Then I go on and eat as much food as I can to gain weight.”

Other believers have stood by White.

He said: “Jeff Devenney, my coach at Applecore in Brewster, still works with me on my skating, edge work, stride and shooting. He helped me get a look with the Kenai River Brown Bears in the North American Hockey League right before I went to college.

“Brian Gonsalves, the coach at Daniel Hand, has been a trainer for me since I was a sophomore,” White said. “Lifting weights has changed, and now its air resistance training.”

The pandemic is still controlling sports.

“Right now, we are in a stall pattern, hoping to start games in early December,” said Bohn about the Hat Tricks season. “We’re shooting for mid-to-late November to get everyone in (to start practice). That is if everything goes according to plan.”

White said: “I’m a criminal justice major so I almost resigned myself that there would be no hockey and I’d look to be a police officer. I only have one hockey life, so I’m looking to play as long as I can.”

william.bloxsom@hearstmediact.com Twitter: @blox354