London News & Search
Every time the couch at home in Holland Landing beckoned this summer, Richard Whittaker felt the proverbial tap on his shoulder.
Younger brother Liam wanted to go to the gym.
“He got drafted by London and was excited to get signed and make the team, as well,” said 17-year-old Richard, who appeared in a combined 81 regular season and playoff games with the Nationals and Knights as a rookie last year. “So I took less than a week off. He was motivating me to go to the gym with him and that helped me continue to stay in shape.”
And if that wasn’t enough to get him going, part of their routine was spent at Gary Roberts’ training centre in North York, like so many Knights before them.
“Gary’s fun to work with,” Richard said. “He’s usually always at the gym, critiquing our little mistakes. He wants us to become like the pros. And we always see (Phil) Kessel or (Connor) McDavid in there, and it motivates us to work like them.”
The effort has been rewarded.
The Knights announced the signing of Liam, a sturdy defenceman and fifth-round pick, on Wednesday. He’ll live in London with the same billet family as his brother and follow a similar path, playing some junior B nearby with the Strathroy Rockets.
Richard, meanwhile, was one of the standout offensive performers in the Knights first two exhibition tilts with Sarnia two weeks ago.
With most of London’s main guns at NHL camps, both are bound to see significant ice in the club’s final two preseason games, which come against defending OHL champ Erie Friday at Budweiser Gardens and Saturday in Komoka.
Whittaker scored his only major junior goal in his second regular season game last year against the Otters. He wants to create a few more looks for himself in his second go-round and pay it forward.
“I expect to play more and be effective to help (the Knights) go far in the playoffs,” Richard said. “Living here and having (that) first year was good for me. It was away from home and I was used to living without my parents and brothers. Now, I have to continue to work harder and introduce my little brother to all these things, and help him as well.”
The Knights, of course, love that he is part of a winning atmosphere wherever he lands. They were 8-3 in games he played last season.
Then he joined the Nats full-time in January and was part of their Sutherland Cup run, losing to Elmira in the final.
He clearly wasn’t shy, racking up 73 penalty minutes in the regular season and 36 more in the postseason as a youngster on an experienced squad.
“It’s always a fine line between wanting to play a lot and being in an environment that’s conducive to winning,” Knights GM Rob Simpson said. “You build those traits into your game. Sometimes, you can play on a team not as strong and be able to free-wheel out there, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re playing the right way to win later on.
“Each player is different but that was a good environment for Richard.”
Simpson thinks Richard looks quicker with more explosive first steps.
“He had a good summer,” he said, “and you can see he feels more comfortable. Vision and hockey sense has been a strength of his.”
So, too, is timing.
Richard Whittaker grew up playing hockey mostly at the ‘A’ and ‘AA’ levels. He was often a York-Simcoe Express call-up, so that’s how he came to befriend a wiry goaltender from Bradford named Jordan Kooy, now a Knights teammate.
“He was the ‘AAA’ goalie, so every time I APed (affiliate player), I would be on his team,” Richard said, “until my last year in minor midget when I played on York-Simcoe and he played on a different ‘AAA’ team (Central Ontario Wolves).”
Whittaker’s Express won the OHL Cup minor midget championship.
Does he tease Kooy about it?
“Nah, not too much,” he said with a grin.
The plan is to win now, together in London.
With Liam around, there’s plenty of motivation.
London News & Search