Whitney finding his way in Arizona's desert

Former Hurricanes forward adjusting to new life with the Coyotes

Staff writerOctober 23, 2010 

— For a professional athlete, it's never easy leaving one team and joining another, even if it has happened several times before, in several locales.

Ray Whitney was tired of moving. At 38, he wanted to end his hockey career with the Carolina Hurricanes. He won a Stanley Cup with the Canes in 2006, had become something of a Carolina icon and was a favorite of Canes fans.

But Whitney has a new team, the Phoenix Coyotes. More so, his family has a new home, and the transition to life in the Arizona desert has not been an entirely easy one.

"For two weeks straight, my oldest daughter was crying every day going to school," Whitney said Friday. "She was having troubles with it. She'll look at some pictures of her friends and she'll start crying and want to go back home.

"It's tough when you have kids who are embedded in a community and take them out of it. This has been the toughest one so far for us."

Notice Whitney said "home." He said again Friday that he wants to return to the Triangle to live once his career ends.

But for now, it's a matter of playing hockey and trying to win games for the Coyotes, who signed the free-agent winger in July. On the wall just above his locker stall at Jobing.com Arena is the word "Passion." Whitney always has tried to provide that, and No. 13 will do it again tonight against the Hurricanes, who will be ending a five-game road trip.

"It will be a little strange being on the other side from guys like Eric Staal and Erik Cole," Whitney said. "It will be weird. I'll be glad when it's done."

Whitney, in a glib mood Wednesday, joked that he wasn't sure which of the Canes would be the first to get in that first, hard hit on their old teammate.

Maybe Tim Gleason, he said. If not Joni Pitkanen.

"I've verbally given it to a lot of guys over the years," Whitney said, smiling. "There might be a lineup for that one."

But Whitney being Whitney, he got in the first "verbal" hit - on the Canes' Chad LaRose, always the team chatterbox and cutup.

"Listening to Chad LaRose on the other side ... I don't know if it's going to be as funny this time when I'm not on the same side."

Told of Whitney's comments, LaRose had to laugh.

"I can probably get a smirk out of him," LaRose said. "He's a great guy, and we'll miss him. We had a lot of laughs together. But he'll be wearing a Coyotes shirt."

The Coyotes (2-2-1), like the Canes (3-3), began the season in Europe. They played an exhibition game against Dinamo Riga in Riga, Latvia, then opened the regular season with two games against the Boston Bruins in Prague, Czech Republic.

Whitney said the exhibition game was cleanly played - in contrast to the Canes' game against SKA St. Petersburg in Russia. The Coyotes split with the Bruins, and Whitney returned to the U.S. with an injured finger that knocked him out of the next two games.

But Whitney, who has one assist in three games, was back in the lineup Thursday as the Coyotes topped the Los Angeles Kings 4-2 at Jobing.com Arena before an announced crowd of 6,706. One of his linemates is former Hurricanes forward Radim Vrbata, and Whitney is being counted on to boost to a power play that ranked among the worst in the NHL last season and is 1-for-9 this year.

"He's a veteran guy who brings a real strong winning attitude," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "When you've got a guy who's won a Stanley Cup, there's a lot of knowledge there....

"He's a guy we just felt was a very good fit on our team and a guy we expect to get better and better."

Had the finances worked for both sides, Whitney would still be fitting in with the Canes. But Phoenix offered a two-year contract worth $6 million, and that was that.

Now, it's a matter of producing for his new employer.

"I'm still trying to find my way out there a little bit," Whitney said. "Coming from a different system for five years, I find myself at times being in the wrong spot or thinking the game a little too much. I'm still working on it."

And still working on how to treat old friends, well, rudely.

"I'm telling you, it's weird," he said.

chip.alexander@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8945

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