By: Will Burchfield
Given a do-over, Luke Witkwoski probably would have kept walking down the Red Wings’ tunnel instead of stepping back on the ice and inciting a melee in Wednesday’s game versus the Flames.
“Yeah, or maybe done something more if I’m going to get 10 games,” Witkowski said on Friday.
The Red Wings’ utility man was suspended 10 games on Thursday for violating NHL Rule 70.6, which states plainly and clearly that a player cannot return to the ice after being ordered to the dressing room by an official.
Per the rulebook, “Any player or goalkeeper who has been ordered to the dressing room by the officials and returns to his bench or to the ice surface for any reason before the appropriate time shall be assessed a game misconduct and shall be suspended automatically without pay for the next ten regular League and/or playoff games.”
Witkowski, who had been sent off after fighting Calgary’s Brett Kulak, was two or three steps down the hallway toward the Red Wings’ locker room when Matthew Tkachuck whacked him in the back of the leg. That prompted Witkowski to return, and he briefly engaged with Luke Hamonic — the two had been going at it all game — before being dragged off again by an official.
At that point, Witkowksi was already due a 10-game suspension. He doesn’t think he got his money’s worth.
“Honestly, I didn’t know that was a rule,” said Witkwoski, a four-year veteran. “I obviously know now. I knew it was a rule you couldn’t jump (over) the boards. It’s kind of a grey area still being on the bench and the door still being open, but lesson learned, I guess. Move on from here.”
Asked whether he would have refrained from retuning to the ice had he known the rule at the time, Witkowski said, “I would say so. I don’t want to sit out 10 games, nobody wants to sit out 10 games.”
Tkachuck, who was assessed a five-minute major for spearing and a game misconduct, has a hearing with the NHL department of player safety on Friday. Witkowski isn’t rooting for him to get suspended.
“I don’t hope anybody gets suspended unless they obviously deserve it. I don’t know if what I did should get 10 games, but that’s the rule,” said Witkowski.
Although Tkachuk instigated the situation, Witkwowski admitted, “That little tap on the legs doesn’t warrant me to go back on the ice.”
Both Witkowski and Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill felt Witkowski’s suspension was too stiff. The problem in Blashill’s mind is that the rule doesn’t allow for judgement.
“I read the rule. I don’t think the way the rule’s written gives the league office really any ability to apply judgement because it’s so black and white,” said Blashill. “It’s too bad. I think if they had the ability to apply judgement, common sense says that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.
“Witter goes back on the ice because he gets hit on the leg by one of their players. That’s what initiated it, otherwise it’s over. Once he goes back on, he could have made it way worse and he chose not to. You’re going to go through the season and see lots of things done that get way less games.”
Witkowksi, a defenseman-forward hybrid, was making his eighth appearance of the season on Wednesday. He won’t be eligible to return until Dec. 9.
He plans to practice hard in the interim.
“Keep doing the same thing I’ve been doing. I sat out nine games before this,” he said.
He learned of his suspension while deer hunting on Thursday night. He confirmed he bagged a buck.
“Hey,” Witkowski said with a grin, “with that fine I need to put food on the table.”