Witzke leads Marauders past Lumberjacks
Since the turn of the year, the top line of the University of Mary has dominated with Isaiah Thomas, Caleb Petrie and Alex Flicek on offense.
They were like that again on Wednesday night, but this time she was joined by defenseman Johnny Witzke, whose four points were crucial in a 5-3 win over Dakota College-Bottineau at Mandan’s Starion Sports Complex.
“We started well, scored those three goals in the first half and the game was a bit callous. Who would do what, what would the competitive nature be like and we’ve had some success with our front row,” said Marauders. said head coach Dan Huntley. “They were quarterbacked by Witzke’s passing and Isaiah’s ability to pass the puck, these two guys open everything up on the rink.”
“They’re a very strong team,” Witzke said of the Lumberjacks. “Every time we play them, whether we play here or there, we get seizures, no matter how much we’ve beaten them in a game before. They are well trained and they play their system well.”
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Witzke’s skills have kept him high on the list of points earners for the Marauders.
“My offensive game picked up speed in the second half,” said Witzke. “I went into the second half of the season knowing that I could be better. I didn’t have a bad first half but I knew I could play better so I came in with that mentality and it’s starting to show. I still want to get better defensively, but I definitely picked it up offensively.”
Fast start has also become a feature of Marauder games as their top line is perhaps one of the best in the business.
Thomas, Petrie and Witzke finished the first third with no less than two points.
“The way[Witzke and Thomas]handle the puck, their vision is phenomenal and everyone else benefits from playing with them,” said Huntley. “It wasn’t their best defensive play, I think they were on the ice for all three goals they conceded, but when you go out there and can outperform them yourself you get a slap on the back and a promise to do better next time. “
Petrie scored first as a shot from Flicek splattered through goalie Mason Matthew (43 saves) and Petrie was there to smash the puck in before lumberjack reinforcements could arrive.
“These guys have a lot of high-end skills,” Witzke said. “I had to play with Isaiah at Estevan, P (Petrie) went to Estevan and I’ve played with Alex for the last three years so there’s a lot of confidence in having these guys out there and being able to play with them in my attacking ability. “
Another new feature of Marauders hockey showed up throughout the game this time – the ability to score regardless of the number of opponents on the ice.
During the 60 minutes of play, the Marauders scored while killing a penalty – Witzkes first goal of the evening to make it 2-0 – a power play goal – Flicek in the second to make it 4-2 – and a 4-a-side goal – Witzkes second goal of the evening to 5:3.
“It’s nice to be able to wrap that up and know that our special teams are working,” Huntley said. “We have special kids out there who can really play. I don’t know how many games we’ve played in the second half of the year since January, but we’ve scored seven shorthanded goals in that time.”
Witzke’s man-man goal had a downside though – it should have resulted in a penalty for Bottineau, even though the goal was scored.
“It was nice that the officials let go of some things but Johnny’s first goal should have been a catch because he almost got knocked down but he fought through,” said Huntley. “The official let me know he screwed up, he told me he should have said it because we could have gotten a power play there. It’s few and in general I thought it was a clean game.”
“I read the play, saw the player get stuffy on a pass, so I jumped in and picked it up,” Witzke said. “I don’t usually get a lot of breakaways, but I managed to score. One of my problems is using my size to protect the puck when I put the puck on ice, so I made a commitment to protect the puck as best I could and I was fortunate to get it there, where it was
The Marauders extended their lead to 3-0 in the first thanks to Thomas, who scored on the doorstep of the Bottineau net after Petrie was unable to find a shooting lane while coming down from the point.
Bottineau answered before the first period ended. Kole Fitzpatrick beat Marauders goalie Conan Hayton (26 saves) on a rebound chance.
“At the end of a period a team can push and what happens depends on what lines you have out there,” Huntley said. “This one was off a 2v1 onslaught. Johnny was aggressive and we got caught when we didn’t cover for anyone. They shot, got a ricochet and Drew (Lenertz) couldn’t get there.”
The teams traded lone goals in each of the last two periods.
Another rebound opportunity, this time after several impressive saves from Hayton, was enough for the Lumberjacks to cut the lead to 3-2.
“You have to play harder against good teams,” said Huntley. “You can’t be mad when you give up goals because everyone is trying very hard. Teams aren’t going to come here and fold, even though it’s a tough place to play.”
Flicek responded with his power play goal almost exactly three minutes later, restoring the two-goal lead.
“In the second half of the game we had problems scoring a safe goal,” said Witzke. “It gave the bench a little more confidence, we can get on with our game instead of worrying about making a mistake.”
Trailing 4-3, the Lumberjacks were pushing hard for the equalizer until the Marauders scored their fifth goal of the night – Witzke’s second of the night – on penalties and pushed the lead back to two.
“Less body on the ice, I like to run there (in situations like this),” said Witzke. “Having that extra space on the ice allows me to be a little bit more free and use my skating ability to create a separation from the players.”
Although it wasn’t the cleanest night at the net, Hayton picked up a nice consolation prize when he got the second assist for Witzke’s second goal.
“Two positives for him tonight, the win and the support,” said Huntley. “He didn’t give up much, he would probably like to have a goal back, but he controlled the puck well.”
With the two-goal lead, both teams returned to a less hectic game.
“We had a chance to relax, we could throw in the puck a bit,” Huntley said. “They had to break away while trying to pull their keeper but we didn’t allow them to get the puck out of their zone. We played well defensively to prevent them from pulling their keeper.”
The Marauders have a rare weekend off to rest before heading to St. Louis next weekend, where they meet a top-10 DI team and team Lindenwood, who placed them in the D-II standings, in Maryville closest pursued.
“It’s always an exciting time to go on road trips with the boys,” said Witzke. “You look forward to touring, spending time with the guys and creating memories that will last a lifetime. We’re playing a new team in Maryville, they rank high in DI, then Lindenwood is right behind us in D – II. We only expect their best and give them our best.”
As for Huntley, the next few days will be far from restful, although they will still be pleasant.
“We’re getting a little recruiting time,” Huntley said. “I can go out and watch some games and talk to some kids. Then we’ll get back to it on Monday and Tuesday before we leave. We have to be ready to play against two really strong teams.”