Jim Farelli watched intently from the press box at the Pembroke Memorial Centre. The veteran junior A coach was making his final cuts as training camp and the pre-season wrapped up for his Pembroke Lumber Kings. The start of the 1986-87 season was just around the corner and the team’s director of player personell, Gavin Leishman, had been able to open up a pipeline through Montreal that had brought four prospects to camp, including an 18-year old centre who a year later would tear up the Central Canada Hockey League record books.
But Peter White wasn’t a shoe in to make the team. The other three players who had arrived in Pembroke from La Belle province, Glenn Painter, Bruce Coles and Sean Cregan, all caught the attention of Farelli early in camp, but Farelli wasn’t keen on White’s skating ability. Since taking over the bench of the Kings at the start of the 1981-82 season, Farelli had been building his teams around speed and scoring. He wasn’t convinced White could offer either attribute to his club.
What Farelli didn’t know was that Leishman had already signed White and his three Quebecois teammates. “They had made the team before Jim Farelli saw them on the ice. That’s how impressed I was with them,” says Leishman. It would be several weeks later before Leishman let Farelli know what he had done, causing some anxiety as training camp continued and White still had not made the club.
Farelli’s opinion of White changed during a final inter-squad game. White received a pass just outside the goal crease and buried the puck under the cross bar. The puck was in the net in a flash. Russ Holmberg, a team owner, was sitting beside Farelli in the press box. Holmberg recalls that Farelli’s reaction to the shot wasn’t overt, but he knew at that moment that White’s status with the Lumber Kings was now secure. “Farelli doesn’t say anything and doesn’t make a note, but I could feel his shoulder twitch. As we climbed down the stairs from the press box, Gavin asked me, ‘what do you think?’ I said, ‘I think Peter White has just made the team.”
In his first year with the Kings, White had 20 goals and 54 points in 54 games. George Dupont was the team’s scoring star with 178 points, while Coles would be the league’s rookie of the year, cracking the 50 goal mark. Future NHL player Mike Eastwood also had a big year with 58 goals, but none of those numbers could touch what White would put on the board the following season, an astonishing 226 points in 56 games.
In his record crushing season, White had 90 goals and 136 assists, including 11 hat tricks and 17 games when he scored twice. Jim Farelli’s short bench and the fact White had only 35 penalty minutes all season gave him an abundance of ice time to score in bunches. Farelli was known to primarily play his top two lines, keeping his powerplay unit on the ice for the full two minutes. That’s where White really feasted on the opposition, but his strong positional play also helped him collect points and garner the attention of NHL scouts.
After lighting up the CCHL, White moved on to college hockey, playing four seasons at Michigan State University. After one season in the NCAA, he was drafted 92nd overall in the 1989 NHL entry draft by the Edmonton Oilers. He played with several NHL teams over his career, splitting his time between the big league and the farm system, seeing action in 220 NHL games with Edmonton, Toronto, Philadelphia and Chicago.
A few years ago, former Lumber Kings owner Dale McTavish who was a teammate of White during his record breaking season with the Kings, honored White with a special ceremony and plaque that hangs on the Lumber Kings Wall of Honor at the PMC. Introducing him for the on ice ceremony was his line-mate that season, Brian Downey, who also put up big numbers during his time with the Kings. It was the first time White had been back in the Pembroke Memorial Centre since his final game in May of 1988 when the Lumber Kings lost in the semi-finals of the Centennial Cup national championship tournament, hosted by Pembroke.
After the ceremony, White reminisced about his time playing in Pembroke, recalling one of the greatest games he ever played in, a round-robin contest with the Notre Dame Hounds that the Kings won in triple overtime at the Centennial Cup. Unfortunately, the Kings had nothing left the following night when they lost to Notre Dame in the semi-finals ending White’s junior hockey career.
The 1980’s were a different time with wide open hockey that produced double digit scores. The style of play made it possible for White to average more than four points a game, a remarkable statistic that is hard to imagine in today’s game. Like Luc Chabot’s 101 goal season for the Lumber Kings in the 1985-86 campaign, Peter White’s 226 point season is considered untouchable. Not bad for a player who almost didn’t make the team!