Younger Capitals fans are familiar with jersey No. 19 being worn by top center Nicklas Backstrom. However, there was another Capital, who was a member of the Capitals not too long ago who wore No. 19 before it belonged to Backstrom. It was Brendan Witt, a defensive defenseman with a tough mentality, who played in the NHL for nearly fifteen years, 10 of them with the Capitals.
Witt was born on February 20, 1975, in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, which coincidentally, was the same day that Livan Hernandez, a former Washington Nationals pitcher, was born in Cuba.
Witt left home at an early age to play junior league hockey with the Seattle Thunderbirds. He claimed the move was not too tough on him since, prior to playing major junior hockey, he had left home to play midget hockey in Saskatoon for the Saskatoon Blazers, and had lived with a host family. He considered it “cool” to live in Seattle during that time frame since the “grunge” scene was taking place in the music industry, becoming interested in Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. His very first junior hockey appearance was a playoff game during the 1990-1991 season. He played three full seasons with the Thunderbirds, finishing with three goals and nine assists in 1991-1992, two goals and 26 assists in 1992-1993, and eight goals and 31 assists in 1993-1994. He played in the playoffs during each of those seasons, totaling five goals and 11 assists in 29 playoff games. The vast majority of his junior hockey playoff goals and assists came during his last season, when he had three goals and eight assists. He was named to the Western Hockey League (WHL) All-Stars team during the 1992-1993 season, and was named to both the WHL and the Canadian Hockey League All-Star teams in 1993-1994. He appeared in the World Junior Championships in 1993, representing Canada.
He was drafted by the Capitals in the first round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft as the eleventh overall pick. However, he did not play for the Caps until 1995. He attended the Caps’ Training Camp in the fall of 1993, but disappeared from there before the end in the early hours of the morning. The Caps had tried signing him to a multi-year deal several times, but he kept turning them down. As a result, he played no competitive hockey for a year until he finally signed a deal before the 1995-1996 season.
He made his NHL debut in October 1995 in a 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues, and scored his first goal against the Boston Bruins on October 26, 1995. He played 48 games with the Caps in his first season, scoring two goals and recording three assists. During his second professional season, he divided time between the Caps and their top farm team, the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League, playing 44 games with the Caps and 30 with Portland, scoring three goals and recording two assists with the Caps. The following season, 1997-1998, he played in 64 games, scoring one goal and registering seven assists. This was the year the Caps advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals. He remained with the team until 2005-2006 season.
During his tenure with the team, he was known as a defensive defenseman. Throughout that time, the Caps won two Southeast Division titles, one in 1999-2000, and the other in 2000-2001. In 1999-2000, Witt played in 77 games and had 105 blocked shots. In 2000-2001, he led the team in hits with 207. That year, both he and Steve Konowalchuk were co-captains of the team. However, the following season, the players voted on who should be captain, and Konowalchuk was named their sole captain.
When the Caps began their rebuilding process in the 2003-2004 season, he indicated his desire to play for a Stanley Cup contender, not wishing to endure the expected non-competitive seasons with the Caps. After playing 75 games with the Caps during the 2005-06 season (the 2004-05 season was cancelled due to a lockout), the Caps traded him to the Nashville Predators for a first round pick and minor league forward Kris Beech, at the 2006 trade deadline. He was reunited with David Poile, the General Manager of the Predators who had originally drafted him during his time as the GM of the Capitals. At the time of the trade, he had played 626 games for the Capitals in nearly 10 seasons, scoring 20 goals, 63 assists, and recording 1,035 penalty minutes. Talking about his time with Washington, he recalled that they prided themselves on defensive hockey and being hard to play against.
He ended up playing the final 17 games of the 2005-06 season with the Predators. After the season, he signed with the New York Islanders as a free agent that summer. He remained with the Islanders for four seasons, retiring after the 2009-2010 season. His final totals for his NHL career were 890 games played, 25 goals, 121 assists, and 1,424 penalty minutes. During the 2009-2010 season, while a member of the Islanders, he was hit by an SUV in Philadelphia while walking outside. Fortunately, he was able to play in the game that same night. The Islanders waived him in February 2010, and he finished the season with their AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport Tigers. He retired after the season and moved his family from their home in Florida, to their ranch in Montana, wanting a quieter lifestyle. Since his retirement, he has participated in Caps alumni games, including the one in September 2013, attended the Capitals Conventions, and has also been involved in charitable activities.
Check out some of NoVa Caps’ Other Alumni Features:
Washington Capitals Alumni Profile – Alan Hangsleben
Portrait of A Caps Alumnus: Kelly Miller
Capitals Alumni Profile: Mike Green
Portrait of a Caps Alumnus – Mike Gartner
Looking Back on the Capitals Career of Craig Laughlin
By Diane Doyle