Witt Doing the Little Things|
by: Patrick Hickey, Jr. | Senior Writer - NY Sports Day | Sunday, December 24, 2006
While Jason Blake and Alexei Yashin have scored the big goals that have kept the Islanders in the playoff hunt so far this season, Brendan Witt has been a key ingredient in the Isles success as well, providing leadership and toughness to a team that seemed void of it last season.
Known throughout the league as a defenseman with the heart of a lion, who never shied away from a fight, Witt, this season, has shown the restraint necessary to make himself more than a tough guy and has become the heart and soul of the team’s defensive core. On Tuesday night against the Rangers, Witt’s restraint and patience was put to the test when he was punched in the face by Brendan Shanahan, a face that was already bruised due to a fight he had with the Thrashers Jim Slater on Saturday and was almost lured into a fight with Rangers tough man Colton Orr. Not only did Witt not retaliate against Shanahan and Witt, who were trying anything to get their team going, he managed to draw roughing penalties on both Shanahan and Orr which led to a powerplay goal that gave the Isles the lead for good.
While he’s not going to be winning any beauty contests the next few weeks, Witt understands it’s his role on this team to get under the skin of the opposition.
“You have to swallow your pride when you get punched in the face during a key time in the game,” Witt told the team’s web site after the Isles defeated the Rangers 4-3 on Tuesday. “I didn't really expect Shanahan to punch me, but we capitalized on the power play. You have to be smart and disciplined. We talked about staying out of the box and moving our feet. We told each other as long as we keep skating they'll haul us down. We gave the refs reasons to call penalties on them.”
“Witt knew exactly what he was doing," Isles head coach Ted Nolan told Newsday after the game, applauding Witt’s patience and resolve. If having the confidence of Nolan isn’t enough to tell you what Witt means to the Isles, many believe that his emergence as an emotional and physical leader on the ice was what prompted Islanders general manager Garth Snow to deal Alexei Zhitnik to the Flyers this past week for young defenseman Freddy Meyer.
Now with Zhitnik gone, Witt will have more ice-time and even more of a chance to prove just how refined his game has become this season. Currently second on the team in blocked shots and on pace to have the best offensive season of his career, Islander fans can’t get enough of Witt.
“Brendan Witt was an excellent addition to the Isles defensive core this season,” said Isles fan Shaun O’Brien, who also runs an Islanders Myspace group that has over 1000 members. “He provides leadership and a toughness that was surely lacking on the Isles blue line. Witt leads by example on the ice and provides a positive influence for the younger guys on the squad.”
It’s almost as if Witt himself knew that guys that play the way he does don’t have much of a place in the new NHL and as a result forced himself to become much more than a prototypical tough guy. Much like Islanders head coach Ted Nolan, Witt is proving that a change of scenery and a positive attitude can go a long way in this league.