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After a solid senior season, Whitmore going pro

For those in and around the Falcon hockey program who could not get enough of Derek Whitmore, they might be seeing more of him very soon – on national television.

The Rochester, NY native recently signed a two-year contract with the Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League. A week ago he reported to the Sabres’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Rochester Americans, where he has played in two games thus far.

His stay in the AHL is likely to be short-lived, however, as that season will conclude in two weeks.

At that point, he plans to live up to the true meaning of the phrase student-athlete. The four-year Falcon player will rush back to BGSU to try to finish out his degree in exercise science.

‘I’ll be back in the classroom on April 14, one day after our last game,’ Whitmore said. ‘I’m going to work my tail off once I get back, and hopefully some of my teachers are understanding of what I had to do.

‘My goal is to make up what I missed during those last two weeks before finals because I would hate to throw away four years of academics just for this pro tryout.’

The Americans currently sit in last place in the North Division, a spot that Whitmore unfortunately became familiar with during his middle years with BG when they languished in the depths of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.

‘I give Derek a lot of credit for the way he plays and the way he leads a team,’ said Western Michigan coach Jim Culhane after Whitmore torched his team for his third hat-trick of the season on Jan. 18.

‘From the outside looking in, I think he deserves a lot of credit for the way he’s handled himself in circumstances here that he probably didn’t want as a player,’ Culhane said, referring to BG’s 20-52-4 record during Whitmore’s sophomore and junior seasons.

A modestly sized forward who stands at 5 feet 10 inches and weighs less than 190 pounds, the 23-year-old managed to pop in 46 total goals and record 20 assists during his junior and senior years. He also played in all but one of the Falcons’ 77 total games during the last two years and blocked 21 shots in 2007-08.

That kind of durability and success will surely be marketable at the next level.

‘It’s key because the athletes in our game are getting both very quick and very strong,’ BG coach Scott Paluch said.

Scoring 11, 13, 19, and then 27 goals, respectively, in his four seasons with BG was important in showing the Sabres he’s always willing to work harder.

‘He’s had that progression of getting better every year, and I think that’s a true sign of somebody who’s willing to pay the price to get to the next level,’ Paluch said.

‘My agent was really trying to line some things up for me with NHL teams, but there was nothing there at first,’ Whitmore said. ‘Then [BG assistant coach] Todd Reirden emailed Buffalo’s general manager and told them what I can bring to a team.

‘He told them it would be foolish for the Sabres not to take a look at me, being a western New York guy and all. I really hoped it would happen considering I grew up watching them,’ Whitmore said.

Sure enough, a few days later, the Falcons’ leading scorer was skating at the BGSU Ice Arena when he got a call from Buffalo to sign a two-year deal.

With the backing from a former BG and NHL player in Reirden, Whitmore took off for his hometown. He has greatly enjoyed being able to live at home in Rochester, even if only for a few weeks before moving back to BG.

Tommy Goebel, a senior this season for Ohio State, also signed an amateur try-out contract with the Amerks and has put up five points in five games so far with them.

‘There are quite a few college kids here now actually,’ Whitmore said. ‘I know Tommy best from playing against him, but we’re getting to know each other a little more. I definitely respect him as a player, being so small like me.’

Goebel is generously listed around 5 feet 8 inches, but outdid his former CCHA rival when Whitmore took a boarding penalty a few minutes into his first game. Goebel, meanwhile, had a goal and an assist in his first AHL game exactly one week earlier.

‘Friday night was an incredible experience, getting to start at home for my first game,’ Whitmore said. ‘I took that penalty 30 seconds into the game and I was probably just a little overanxious. I caught some grief from a few of the guys for that one.’

Jokes aside, Derek Whitmore has set out a plan for himself in the immediate future.

‘I’m going to do whatever I can here for Rochester and then graduate,’ Whitmore said. ‘As soon as school is over I’m going to Buffalo’s training camp and working as hard as I possibly can.

‘I’m not going to be saying, ‘Oh first or second line in the AHL is good enough.’ No, I want to come out of training camp as a member of the Buffalo Sabres’ 2008-09 team.’

If he can fly through training camp this summer like he did the neutral zone at the BGSU Ice Arena, expect to catch Mr. Whitmore wearing maize and midnight blue in October.

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