The Fargo Force have announced they have selected Tampa's 2008 6th round pick Luke Witkowski to join the roster of the USHL's newest team for the 2008-09 season. The 6'2", 200 lbs. defenseman has signed a letter of intent with Western Michigan University of the CCHA having deferred enrollment until the 2009-10 season. Witkowski became a free agent in May after the Ohio Junior Blue Jackets of the USHL ceased operations for the 2008-09 season after just two years.
Witkowski, a big blueliner known for his skating agility and speed, will be coached in Fargo by former University of North Dakota head coach Dean Blais who led the Fighting Sioux to two NCAA national championships over the course of a decade at the helm. Blais, known for his up-tempo offensive style, seems to be a good fit for Witkowski's offensive potential. Blais also coached Bolt prospect Matt Smaby and recent Lightning signee Brandon Bochenski during his tenure at UND.
The Norfolk Admirals have announced the signing of Bracken Kearns and former Lightning 2003 draft pick Jay Rosehill to standard AHL player contracts. Kearns, a center, was re-signed after playing with the Admirals last year under a similar AHL contract. Rosehill, a defenseman turned left wing, also played for the Admirals last season as a Tampa prospect under a three-way NHL contract.
The Victoria Times is reporting that undrafted junior hockey graduate and Lightning Prospect camp invitee Brady Leavold has been signed by the Norfolk Admirals to a two-way AHL-ECHL contract. There has been no official announcement from the Admirals on the signing, but new Norfolk GM Mike Butters has been busy this week signing depth players Pete Zingoni, Mike McKenna, and Justin Fletcher to AHL contracts.
After going undrafted, Leavold, a Port Coquitlam, BC native, returned to the Kelowna Rockets (WHL) for a 5th junior season and exploded for a point-per-game campaign in both the regular season and the playoffs. Playing on Kelowna's top line as highly touted Dallas prospect Jamie Benn's right winger, Leavold put up 27-42-69 in 67 games and 6-2-8 in 7 playoff games. Leavold also racked up 138 PIMs. After the Rockets were eliminated from the playoffs, the Victoria Salmon Kings of the ECHL signed Leavold to ECHL contract, finishing this season with 3 regular season ECHL games and 2 playoffs games for the Salmon Kings. The Salmon Kings retained Leavold's ECHL rights, so that if Norfolk reassigned Leavold to the ECHL, Victoria would get Leavold instead of Norfolk's ECHL affiliate in Augusta.
Norfolk Admirals GM Mike Butters was busy with the pen again today continuing to add roster depth by signing former Lightning overage defensive prospect Justin Fletcher to a standard AHL contract. Butters had signed center Pete Zingoni and goaltender Mike McKenna to standard AHL contracts on Monday. Fletcher, originally undrafted out of St. Cloud State in Minnesota, signed an ATO with the Springfield Falcons and eventually earned a one year NHL contract from then Lightning GM Jay Feaster in May 2007.
Zingoni, 27, played 66 games last season for the Philadelphia Phantoms of the AHL notching 20 goals and 38 points to go along with 92 penalty minutes. The native of Bridgeport, CT was an 8th round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.
McKenna, 25, is a two time ECHL All-Star who appeared in 41 games last season for the Portland Pirates of AHL going 24-13-1 with a 2.72 GAA, 3 shutouts, and a .908 save percentage. McKenna was a 6th round pick of the Nashville Predators in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, and will compete with Lightning prospects Karri Ramo and Riku Helenius for one of two spots in Norfolk.