Caps rookie Witt makes grade Defenseman skates good opening case HOCKEY

October 01, 1993|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

Imagine going to summer camp and finding out you may never have to leave. That's how 18-year-old rookie defenseman Brendan Witt feels, as he and the Washington Capitals negotiate a contract that would keep him on the roster.

All Witt wanted when he arrived for training camp was to find out what NHL competition was like and then go back to Seattle, to his Western Hockey League club, and continue working toward his goal of making the big time.

Now, six days before Washington opens the regular season in Winnipeg, Witt stands a good chance of becoming the first Capitals' first-round draft choice to make the team's opening-day roster as a rookie since Scott Stevens did it in 1982.

"We've made a proposal and we've made it clear we want to go with Brendan," said general manager David Poile. "We have until Oct. 5 to get it done."

The Capitals have eight defensemen on the roster, one more than Poile thinks they will keep. That means if Washington can get the contract done, someone else will be cut. The players on the bubble are Shawn Anderson and Jason Woolly.

"I don't feel any pressure because of Brendan," said Anderson, who with center Kevin Kaminski was left unprotected for Sunday's waiver draft. "I like the increased competition. I think it's good for all of us. Brendan has done a good job."

Around the locker room and in the coaches' office, they talk about the maturity of the 6-foot-1, 205-pound player, about his ability to play within himself.

"I wouldn't change anything since I've been here," Witt said. "I'm just so excited to be here. It is the dream of every kid who plays hockey. Whatever happens, I'm enjoying this."

At home, in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, a farming community with a population of about 5,000, Leonard and Pat Witt are making their plans to be in Winnipeg on Wednesday night for the Capitals' opener.

For the Witt family, who made sure Brendan had every opportunity to achieve his dreams -- allowing him to move to Saskatoon to play junior hockey when he was 15 -- Brendan's achievements are astonishing.

"I took him skating every day from the time he was 3 years old," Brendan's father, Leonard, recalled. "I don't know exactly what it was he liked about hockey. But I know he loved hitting the puck -- inside the house and outside the house. Our house has quite a few dents in it."

But the Witts never imagined what kind of rugged hockey player their son would turn into.

He has been playing along Kevin Hatcher and Sylvain Cote this preseason and his physical play and the way he handles himself below the hash marks in the Capitals' own zone, where play can get rough, has made a believer out of Capitals coach Terry Murray.

"Brendan deserves to be here," said Murray. "It's as simple as that. I'm not playing any games, not trying to inspire anyone else. He has a real physical presence."

In Humboldt, Leonard Witt remembers the 7-year-old, who became so angry at some parents in the stands during his "Squirt" league games, he simply quit playing hockey for two years.

"He was bigger than the other little kids," Leonard Witt said. "No one believed his age and, you know how some parents in these little league sports can get carried away. Some of those parents were always screaming at him, so he quit playing.

"You know, there was never a sign that Brendan would be this kind of hockey player. He never even had a fight, ever, until he went to play in Seattle, when he was 17. Then the guys on the other teams went after him and he had to protect himself, I guess. Those other WHL players don't go after him anymore."

During Washington's first preseason game against Buffalo, the Sabres' Matthew Barnaby made the mistake of hitting the Capitals' Steve Konowalchuk after the whistle. Witt came to Konowalchuk's defense.

When Witt turns from his locker after practice at Piney Orchard, one of his most noticeable facial features is the black, blue and yellow rainbow under his right eye.

"You should see the other guy," said Witt, a boyish smile spreading across his face and lighting up his eyes. "He looked a lot worse."

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