As we celebrate the Capitals' 40th anniversary, let's take a moment to...
One-on-One Interview with Caps Alum Brendan Witt
News spread around the Twittersphere last week that ex-Capitals defenseman Brendan Witt had joined Twitter. Witt was a first-round draft pick (11th overall) by Washington in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft and spent 11 seasons in the league. He also spent one season with the Nashville Predators before wrapping up his career by playing four seasons with the New York Islanders.
In 890 career games, the Humboldt, Saskatchewan native scored 25 goals and amassed 121 points to go along with 1,424 penalty minutes. He was also an integral part of the 1997-98 Capitals team that made a run to the Stanley Cup Finals. Witt was known as a very physical defenseman, and for doing things like this to his opponents:
Brendan was gracious enough to talk with us about life, hockey, CBA negotiations, and a minor mishap that occurred a few seasons ago.
Brendan, thank you for taking time out to talk with us. First thing, and I’m sure most fans are curious to know as well, is what are you doing with yourself in retirement?
Well, I’ve kind of been a stay-at-home dad now. I’ve been gone since my kids were babies. They were born during hockey and I’ve missed a lot of time with them growing up with events and the hockey schedule. I’ve been doing that and watching my kids grow up. My oldest is 13 and my youngest is almost 10 so it’s nice to spending a lot of time and moments with my family.
Do you still follow the Capitals and hockey at all?
Yeah, I mean I watch it here and there. I always know what’s going on with trades and free agents and stuff. When I was living in Florida I had the opportunity to see Dale [Hunter] and Jimmy Johnson coaching the Caps. I still know a lot of the medical staff and equipment guys that still work for the Caps. I spent 11 years there, you know, so I have a lot of close people there and that I stay in contact with.
This season is the 15th anniversary of the Capitals only Stanley Cup Finals appearance. I know you were one of the younger guys on that team, but what are some of your memories of that season?
We had a great group in the [locker] room. We made a push and I think we just squeaked into the playoffs. And right before that George [McPhee] went out and got Brian Bellows, Esa Tikkanen, and a couple of others to fill holes here and there. We were fortunate and played Boston in a tough series. After we had beaten Boston we had realized that the one and two seeds had gotten knocked out. We went out and played Ottawa and Olie [Kolzig] stood on his head on that series. Then we played Buffalo and either team could’ve gone to the Finals in that series. Unfortunately, we came up short against Detroit which had a better team. They had four really solid lines and they pretty much rolled through the lines. They were just the better team with more experience.
Two of your teammates on that team, Adam Oates and Calle Johansson, are now the head coach and assistant coach of the Capitals, respectively. What kind of guys were they as teammates and from being their teammate what do you think they can bring to the Caps bench this season?
Well, Calle was my partner for quite a few years and he’s a straight shooter and a heck of a competitor. He’s probably one of the most underrated defensemen to ever play in the NHL. He leads, I believe, all of the Caps defensemen in games played and points (note: Johansson has played in 983 games and has amassed 474 points for Washington, which ranks him first out of all Capitals defensemen in those categories in team history). He knows the game, he was always known as good offensive-end defensive player, and in special team roles. Oatsey, you know, was very professional. When it was time to put on the skates and go out on the ice he was all business. He was a very clutch player and was one of the best passers in the game. He could put the puck pretty much anywhere and on anybody’s stick at any given moment. So, I think those two hired by George is great. You’ve seen Adam have success this past season with the Devils going to the Stanley Cup Finals. Nobody thought they were really going anywhere and just sneak into the playoffs. And, you know, he has some experience there. They both have NHL experience, they both know how the game is played, and they know the schedule. So, they know what they’re getting themselves into and they know how to rest their players and how to get them prepared for games. They should be an exciting team for the Caps this year.
When you were playing, you were struck with the lockout in 2004. I know you’ve been reading a lot of reports and things the NHL and the NHLPA have been saying. Do you see any comparisons from that lockout and what is transpiring now?
Oh, definitely. I think what the average fan doesn’t realize is that the owners don’t care to play until Christmas. They have competition with Major League Baseball, with the World Series, and football. So, at the end of the day, only because I can say it because I’ve been through it, I know how the schedule works, and I know how the machine works, the owners are OK until Christmas. Then they’ll want to start it up. Unfortunately, that hurts the fans. There’s nothing worse than going through what you went through back in ’04-05 and I felt bad for the fans. As fans, you don’t understand. You think the players are being greedy or the owners are being greedy and they don’t care about the game. Unfortunately, like it does in anything it always comes down to business. But this year I see the same similar things going on. They want the players to take another cut on profits, I believe they are at 54% and they [the owners] want to take them down to 47% and we’ll see. Unfortunately, our headline in ’04-05, we weren’t looking for a hard cap and all of a sudden we were taking a 24% rollback. In the union, guys started turning on each other because it was dragging too long. Unfortunately, you learn from those mistakes and it kinda sucked because it hurt the game of hockey and it took a while for the fans to get their loyalty back and come back to the game.
I have to ask you a question about something that happened a few years ago while you were playing for the Islanders. You were in Philadelphia getting ready to play the Flyers, you were crossing the street after getting a cup of coffee, and you were unfortunately struck by a car. You went out and played that night. Would you mind talking about what happened?
I’ll tell you what happened. We were staying at the Four Seasons Hotel and there was a Starbucks about four blocks down. I’m walking to Starbucks and I’m only two blocks away and there are cars turning left down a one-way. I was crossing and there was this car that came out of nowhere and made an illegal left turn to try to cut everybody else off. Obviously, he was more concerned about cutting off other traffic than seeing me. You know, I didn’t see him until the last second and he was going about 15-20 miles an hour. I ended up on his hood and he slammed on his brakes and I went flying 15-20 feet. Unfortunately, I can’t say what I told the guy what I wanted to do to him. There were cussing words. The people in Philly—they got around me and were very supportive of me and asked me if I was ok. They asked if they could call an ambulance and I kinda just stood up, brushed myself off to make sure I was ok, and I told the guy, “It’s your lucky day and get out of here,” in a nice way. And people said, “Are you sure? We should call 911.” I said, “No, no, no. I have to go play a hockey game, so don’t worry about it. I’m cool.” So, I left there and I went and got my coffee. I caught a cab and went to the arena. I was lucky. If I didn’t jump up on his hood I probably would’ve blown out my knee. I was a little sore but I was fortunate.
I know you’ve been spending time with your family but would you ever consider returning to hockey in some capacity?
Um, not right now. The good thing is, the hockey world is a small world. Everyone pretty much knows everybody. I’m not going to rule anything out in the future. I don’t know what the future might hold, but for now my place is to be home with my kids and my wife and to spend time with them. But, who knows. In the future, you never know what might come a-calling. If the opportunity comes, maybe I’ll go step back in but it’s so hard to predict. You never know what job might turn up. So, I’ll keep it open and if it happens, great. I’ll make that decision when I’m 100% into it, but right now I’m enjoying being a dad and being home and connecting with my kids.
Capitals Outsider would like to thank Brendan Witt for taking time out to talk to us. Make sure you give the Caps alum a follow on Twitter for some thoughts on hockey and the great outdoors. If you would like to read more about Brendan, the Caps official site did an “alumni spotlight” article on him last month.