The Fargo Force have announced they have selected Tampa's 2008 6th round pick Luke Witkowski to join the roster of the USHL's newest team for the 2008-09 season. The 6'2", 200 lbs. defenseman has signed a letter of intent with Western Michigan University of the CCHA having deferred enrollment until the 2009-10 season. Witkowski became a free agent in May after the Ohio Junior Blue Jackets of the USHL ceased operations for the 2008-09 season after just two years.
Witkowski, a big blueliner known for his skating agility and speed, will be coached in Fargo by former University of North Dakota head coach Dean Blais who led the Fighting Sioux to two NCAA national championships over the course of a decade at the helm. Blais, known for his up-tempo offensive style, seems to be a good fit for Witkowski's offensive potential. Blais also coached Bolt prospect Matt Smaby and recent Lightning signee Brandon Bochenski during his tenure at UND.
From the message boards:
Jim Gintonio of the Arizona Republic is reporting veteran NHL forward Tyson Nash will attend Lightning training camp next month on a tryout. Nash last played hockey in Japan for the Nippon Paper Cranes. In 374 career NHL games, Nash has scored 27 goals and 64 points with 673 penalty minutes.
Today's edition of the Winnipeg Sun has an expose on the rise of Winnipeg native Mike Butters from a struggling LA actor to the new GM of the AHL's Norfolk Admirals.
Butters wound up with bit parts in Saw and some of its sequels (including Saw V, which comes out in October), and a not-so-bit part with Koules's new hockey toy, the Junior A Helena Bighorns. Acting as league commissioner, team co-owner and associate coach -- with stints as play-by-play man, radio commercial voice, even program-stuffer -- he learned the ropes of running a franchise, top to bottom.
There's some good info in the piece about Riku's work ethic in practice, with some particularly glowing comments from Seattle Thunderbirds teammate Jacob DeSerres. After recently attending Tampa's prospect camp in Victoria, B.C., Helenius' next stop will be the Traverse City Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, MI in early September before the Lightning's training camp opens in Tampa later in the month.
"After sitting out seven months with the shoulder injury, I felt I really played well in Seattle and it was a great year for me," Helenius said. "I also got used to the North American game and the coaches and that was important. I have every intention of earning a spot with Norfolk this coming season." Helenius will face stiff competition for a roster spot in Norfolk from Lightning top goaltending prospect Karri Ramo and Admirals signee Mike McKenna. McKenna, a former Predators draft pick and ECHL MVP runner-up, was one of the AHL's top netminders last season for the Portland Pirates.
The Augusta Lynx have announced the signing of former Lightning defensive prospect Art Femenella to an ECHL contract. The 6'7" and 255 lbs defenseman was originally drafted by Tampa in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft while playing for Sioux City in the USHL, but was never signed to a contract by the organization. The mammoth blueliner completed four years with the Vermont Catamounts in 2007, and attended the 2007 Lynx training camp before missing all of the 2007-2008 season with an injury.
"Art is a legitimate heavyweight who doesn't back down from anything," Lynx Director of Hockey Operations and head coach John Marks said. "You obviously can't coach size, but he also has all the tools to be a very good hockey player. Art's physical presence should help him be the kind of player fans grow to love and appreciate."
After a flurry of activity earlier this summer, the Lightning's offseason has finally slowed down. So, I think this is a good time to take stock of everything that has happened so far. There has never been a time in Lightning history where both the roster, the coaching staff, and front office of this franchise has changed so dramatically. The incredible multi-dimensional makeover of the Tampa Bay Lightning has rightfully generated a lot of interest in the upcoming season, and a lot of credit has to be given to OK Hockey on that account. It's not always easy to generate a significant buzz for a team that finished dead last in the NHL last season, and it's a credit to this group's salesmanship that the trade of two of four members of the ex "Fantastick Four" (Brad Richards and Dan Boyle) hasn't been accompanied with a sense of doom in the fan base.
That said, I think anyone with unbridled optimism for the Lightning this coming season needs to ratchet down expectations to a more reasonable level. The simple truth is that OK Hockey has made several risky moves and the outcome of those moves won't be known for months. What we should all be left with, I think, is what I would deem an "uneasy anticipation" for the coming season.
Lightning prospect followers can breathe a sigh of relief today as the Bolts' highest ranked European prospect, 22 year-old forward Johan Harju, received some positive news regarding the hamstring injury he suffered Monday in Lulea's first practice session for the upcoming season.
Lasse Lundgren, Lulea physiotherapist, indicated that damage is not uncommon for hockey players and expects the left winger to return to the ice in the next few days. The injury was a "rupture" to the hamstring and intends to get Harju running Wednesday or Thursday as part of the usual rehab of injuries such as this. Lundgren said there would be no rush for Harju and that he would be rested for a bit considering the importance of the upcoming season for Lulea.
Harju admitted that he first noticed the hamstring back in July when he was playing land hockey and missed a tackle.
A sixth round pick by the Lightning in the 2007 draft, Harju has scored 32 goals in 106 games over the past two seasons for Lulea in the SEL.
The Norfolk Admirals have announced the signing of Bracken Kearns and former Lightning 2003 draft pick Jay Rosehill to standard AHL player contracts. Kearns, a center, was re-signed after playing with the Admirals last year under a similar AHL contract. Rosehill, a defenseman turned left wing, also played for the Admirals last season as a Tampa prospect under a three-way NHL contract.
Norrbottens-Kuriren is reporting that Lightning prospect Johan Harju suffered a possible knee injury during an on-ice practice session with Lulea for the upcoming SEL season. Apparently, Harju went to make a turn and felt a snap in the back of his knee. The team is being cautious with the possible injury and Harju left the ice in order to get a medical examination of the knee by a doctor. No further information about the extent of the injury are known at this time.
(Thanks to BP staffer sotnos for the translation help!)