PROTECTING THE HOUSE
How Liam Whitehouse became an NAHL mainstay.
In April of 2019, current Tomahawk defenseman Liam Whitehouse was eating at his favorite Mexican restaurant when danger presented itself. A grease fire erupted and flames quickly filled the eatery. Whitehouse, a volunteer firefighter in his hometown of Mt Kisco, NY, acted quickly and began to defend the fire. With the help of his friend, the fire was extinguished and the restaurant was saved from something far worse.
That type of willingness to help others and protect those around him is something that has adhered Whitehouse to his teammates and coaching staff since he joined the Tomahawks.
“Whitey’s story is one I love to hear about, ” said Tomahawks head coach Mike Letizia. “He’s a guy who was willing to grind and take the hard road for his opportunity. Not everyone is up for that, but that’s not Liam.”
Whitehouse’s first experience with the Tomahawks came during the 2018-2019 season when he came to Johnstown for a practice opportunity with the team. Like many other prospects, this was a brief chance to make an impression on the coaching staff with the hopes of opening their eyes for the following season.
In May, Whitehouse participated with the Tomahawks in their Michigan Pre Draft tournament and impressed the coaching staff. His physicality and work ethic opened the eyes of coach Letizia, as well as coach Nick Perri.
“We knew little about Liam prior to our Michigan camp,” commented Perri. “He visited us for a skate early in the 2018-19 season, and made an impression instantly with his hard-nosed play. This carried over into the Michigan camp against opposing teams. His ability to be consistently hard to play against became very intriguing.”
Following the Michigan camp, Liam was invited to attend Tomahawks Main Camp, in July, in Johnstown. It was here that he would need to make enough of an impression on the staff for a chance at the training camp roster.
“We knew Liam had an element of toughness to him that was intriguing, but you have to also be able to play the game, ” stated Letizia. “Liam had a steady camp which earned him an opportunity to play in one of our All Star games. It was there that he made his mark.”
Playing for the Blue team in one of two Main Camp All Star games, Whitehouse brought his hard-nosed style to the table. While displaying strong defensive skills, Liam “answered the bell” in a spirited contest with another member in camp.
“It’s not something that we encourage at all, but it is obviously something that we respect,” remarked Letizia. “After the game, Chris Trouba told us that Liam was an unbelievable kid, and gave him a rave review. When someone of our captain’s magnitude goes out of his way to make that kind of statement, we knew it meant something.”
Whitehouse’s ascension to become a mainstay on the Hawks blue line was a grinding road. He battled hard throughout training camp and practices still hoping to grab his chance to get into the lineup. As time went on, he continued to improve and make an impression on the coaching staff with his willingness to learn, compete, and be a great teammate. For many players, the easy answer when not playing is to point fingers, or possibly leave for a different opportunity, but this was not the case for Whitehouse.
“Liam is a special story because he’s not a quitter. Too often we see players nowadays unable to handle the rollercoaster of junior hockey, but Liam stuck with it,” explained Coach Perri. “He understood success doesn’t happen in a day. He would be in the office doing video and asking for situational play advice, even before he had played a game. There was never any pouting or complaining. He remained a great teammate and a willing learner throughout the process. It’s no surprise that he is 100% for the team now as an everyday player.”
During a team’s road trip to Maine, Whitehouse got his first taste of NAHL regular season action. From there he continued to develop in games gaining more and more trust from the coaching staff, as well as more confidence from himself. As time went on, Whitehouse’s game evolved significantly thanks in large part to his commitment and dedication.
Now 35 games into his NAHL career, the physical, shut down rearguard has earned himself the respect of not only his teammates, but his divisional rivals.
“Whitey has shown that if you keep the right mindset, work your hardest every day, and trust the process, good things can happen for you,” said coach Letizia. ” His game has grown all season long because he listens to instruction and then puts it into action. These days a lot of players want it easy, or want everything handed to them, but when you have to truly earn it not only do you become better off for it on the ice, but it teaches you such a valuable lesson in life as well.”
What started out as a 17 year-old teenager defending his neighborhood and favorite restaurant has now become a young man doing the same thing night in and night out for his hockey team. The road traveled in a player’s journey is not always an easy one, but with perseverance and will, like in Liam’s case, it just may lead you where you want to go.