It took some work to get him in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, but both Johnny Witzke and the Estevan Bruins are happy with the way things have turned out.
“He came to us after a full season of recruiting,” acknowledges Bruins’ head coach and general manager Chris Lewgood. “He played high school hockey last year in Bismarck (North Dakota) and was one of the top players in the league and this year I truly believe he is one of the top defenders in our league as an 18-year-old.”
“The league has been pretty good so far,” adds Witzke. “I’m pretty fortunate to have gotten this opportunity in Estevan. It has been a blast so far.”
The 5-foot-11, 170-pound defenceman moved north of the border after an exceptional season last year. In 27 games with Bismarck High School, Witzke scored 14 times and set up 30 others. He also played in five games at the USA Select 17 event and put up 1-3-4 totals.
As a 16-year-old, Witzke suited up for the Bismarck Bobcats of the North American Hockey League and in 42 games tallied eight points on one goal and seven helpers. He also returned to the NAHL last year, but was held pointless in three games with Bismarck and another with Minot.
The addition of Witzke, who has two goals and 11 assists in his first 30 games with the Bruins, has Estevan threatening to run away with the Viterra Division title and to also be a serious contender for first place overall. Lewgood says what Witzke brings to the team is invaluable.
“We use him in a lot of situations,” says Lewgood. “He gets a lot of minutes against the top players on other teams; he is an unsung hero.”
“He is even-tempered and very disciplined,” adds Lewgood. “He has become a quiet leader in our dressing room.”
Witzke, who plans on playing three years of junior hockey, says he wants to take hockey as far as he can. He also is hoping there is a post-secondary education in his future.
“I would love to go play somewhere and get an education too,” says Witzke. “I’m not sure what I would study, but something with physical activity or criminology.”
For now, while he is still adjusting to the Canadian junior game, he says there is no real secret as to why the Bruins have enjoyed such a successful first half of the season.
“The team is pretty close and when a team gets close together it usually means you will have success on the ice,” says Witzke.
The journey has just started for Witzke, but his early play, plus the endorsement of his coach, breeds a long and successful career in the SJHL. With two-plus years left to develop his skills, and armed with an above average ATT result of 23/36, the future looks bright for the skilled rearguard.
You can view his stats at http://sjhl.hockeytech.com/player?playerId=3119&season=29