Development path leads Bitetto and Witkowski to the NHL
A pair of USHL graduates recently got their first taste of NHL action and fulfilled their hockey dreams when they suited up for teams at the highest level of hockey. Defensemen Anthony Bitetto hit the ice for the Nashville Predators on January 17th while Luke Witkowski was in the lineup for the Tampa Bay Lightning on January 20th.
Both took a development path that led them to success, which included time in the USHL and college hockey before taking the big stage in the NHL. That path also led them to cross paths on the ice as they were part of a championship series in the USHL.
Bitetto played two seasons in the USHL for the Indiana Ice (2008-10), which included being part of their Clark Cup championship team in the spring of 2009. That title was earned against the Fargo Force which was led by captain Luke Witkowski.
Bitetto would go on to be an All-USHL Second Team selection in 2009-10 and was selected by the Nashville Predators in the sixth round (168th overall) of the 2010 NHL Draft. From there, he began his collegiate career at Northeastern University where he accumulated 35 points (7g, 28a) in 72 games over two seasons for the Huskies. The New York native then signed a professional contract with Nashville and began his pro hockey career with their AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals. He was leading the Admirals defensemen in scoring with 18 points (2g, 16a) through 38 games at the time of his call-up to the NHL.
Witkowski also had two seasons in the USHL (2007-09), and he was selected by Tampa Bay Lightning in the sixth round (160th overall) of the 2008 NHL Draft after playing for the Ohio Junior Blue Jackets. He would return to the USHL and joined the Fargo Force for their inaugural season (2008-09), serving as captain and being named to the 2009 USHL All-Star Game. The Holland, Michigan native then completed a four-year collegiate career at Western Michigan University before signing his first pro contract.
Bitetto logged 11:01 of ice time and dished out a pair of hits for Nashville during his NHL debut, while Witkowski logged 14:29 minutes of ice time and blocked two shots for Tampa Bay in his NHL level. Similar beginnings to what hopes to be lengthy NHL careers for the defensemen.
From the USHL, to being NHL Draft picks, to college hockey careers, and to the professional ranks…it has been a recipe and path for success to help Bitetto and Witkowski to realize their hockey dreams.
USHL stats – Anthony Bitetto
USHL stats – Luke Witkowski
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 13th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2014-15. A record 35 players were chosen in the 2014 NHL Draft and more than 300 players on team rosters last season committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent.