For Wittchow, "Team Player" Status Reached New Heights in 2017-18

Apr 25, 2018

Few professions in our society undergo more uncertain times than those of a professional hockey player.

Take the case of Springfield Thunderbird Eddie Wittchow, for example. Originally drafted in the sixth round by the Florida Panthers in the 2011 NHL Draft, the defenseman completed a four-year career at the University of Wisconsin in 2015-16, a season in which he served as a captain.

Everyone sees their pro career take different steps and trajectories, and Wittchow was no exception, splitting time between the Manchester Monarchs of the ECHL and the Thunderbirds at the AHL level in the 2016-17 season.

Even in spite of earning more regular minutes with Springfield to close his rookie season, the 25-year-old Wittchow remained cautious in his optimism heading into his sophomore training camp.

“It was no given coming into the year (that I would be in Springfield), but I definitely felt like I was at home a little more so than last year. (The thought of being sent to Manchester) didn’t leave my mind, which was a good thing because you want to be able to play with that urgency knowing that someone’s always there to take your job if you’re not doing it.”

Little did he know, Wittchow had a unique ability that would not only secure his place on head coach Geordie Kinnear’s team, but completely transform his game.

“I had played four games at forward (at the end of) last year. I remember the talks (Geordie and I) had. He liked me at forward and the ability I had to go both ways with my size and the way I skate.”

Wittchow, who stands 6-foot-4 and checks in near 220 pounds, provided a necessary boost as a rugged winger, and his comfort level steadily rose.

“Not all of our guys offer (a heavy) side of the game. I can get in on the forecheck and turn pucks over. I’m not counted on to necessarily produce points, but I still think I can contribute more.”

And contribute more, he did. After never scoring double-digit points in his collegiate or professional career, Wittchow saw all numbers hit new peaks in 2017-18, with five goals and ten assists to go along with 80 penalty minutes.

“I knew I had the ability as a (defenseman). It wasn’t necessarily skills I didn’t have – it was putting myself in the position to be in the right spot to maybe get a puck that bounces out to me, or to make a pass for someone to put in the back of the net.”

As for his “secondary” position, Wittchow thinks he is only gaining knowledge.

“Now that I’m getting a little more comfortable with the forward game, I’m finding where I need to improve upon – Geordie has shown me video and been very helpful. I get more and more comfortable every game I play.”

Of course, on the ice was not the only place where Wittchow excelled in 2017-18. His selfless, generous nature made for one of the best off-ice storylines in the history of Springfield hockey when he and the Thunderbirds collaborated to present a longtime season ticket holder, Katrina King, with a pair of glasses that allow her – a legally blind superfan – to watch every game live and in person.

Coincidentally enough, each of the Thunderbirds first two “Men of the Year” – Wittchow and Ian McCoshen – each shared a mentor from their younger hockey days. The pair, who skated together for the Waterloo Black Hawks of the United States hockey League some six years ago, drew inspiration from their head coach P.K. O’Handley, the winningest coach in that league’s history.

“Without a doubt, P.K. had an impact (on me as a person). – I went there out of high school not really knowing what it took to be a great hockey player and a great person, and he helped build both aspects of my life. I give a lot of credit to him.”

Even if Wittchow were to never get another point as a pro, one thing is for certain: Katrina King will never cheer an assist louder than this one.

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