Rookie Witkowski Quickly Earning Zettler’s Trust

By Jeremy Houghtaling

After his first game of the season, Luke Witkowski wasn’t all that thrilled with the results.

The defenseman, in his first full professional season out of Western Michigan University, was the only Syracuse Crunch player to register a plus-3 rating in the 4-3 overtime loss to the Binghamton Senators last Saturday.

"Personally, plus-3, that's alright," Witkowski said. "Obviously, the outcome of the game wasn't what I wanted or what anyone else wanted. So, maybe on the stat sheet it looked good, but there's still some other things I need to work on."

With only six games of American Hockey League experience on his resume, Witkowski is just trying to keep his game simple as he develops.

The 23-year-old’s first game of the season impressed Syracuse coach Rob Zettler, who expects to keep Witkowski paired with Dmitry Korobov, who was plus-20 in 65 games with the Crunch last season, for the foreseeable future.

"I thought he was quietly one of our best, if not our best, D," Zettler said of Witkowski. "I thought he made strong plays, really strong going back for pucks. I thought he moved pucks quickly as well. He was just in the way of everything, a good stick. It's not an accident he was plus-3, he was solid."

A senior captain at Western Michigan last year, Witkowski registered 10 points and 46 penalty minutes in 38 games. Once the Broncos’ season ended, he started his pro career with the Crunch and registered four penalty minutes in three games.

"I was a little nervous last year, coming out of college and not knowing what to expect," Witkowski said. "Now I know what to expect and I can just go out and play."

Although he didn’t get to play in the playoffs, Witkowski was a black ace and got to experience the atmosphere as the Crunch made a run to the Calder Cup Finals.

"It was big for him to be comfortable with the guys and be comfortable with the system we play, because they haven't changed that much from last year," Zettler said. "So it gave him a leg-up this year having a little experience and knowing what we're all about."