Anthony Bitetto has traveled across the hockey landscape throughout his career, but year number 12 proved to be a special one in the Queen City.
“You get older, you don’t know how many games you’ve got left,” said Bitetto. “But I enjoyed every moment of it. It was a pleasure playing in this city. I enjoyed it a lot.”
The 32-year-old blue liner and veteran of nearly 200 NHL games, Bitetto joined the Checkers as a veteran presence on a young squad and quickly found his place on the team.
“I think the coaching staff did a great job giving me a role,” said Bitetto. “It’s easy for older guys to come down and kind of - I would say check out. I tried to be positive every night - a vocal voice back there, a leader - and play hard.”
While Charlotte’s forward group went through a handful of iterations during the season, the corps of defensemen stayed fairly stable - in fact, the same seven blue liners held down the fort from mid-January to the end of the season.
“I think that the seven of us did a pretty good job,” said Bitetto. “Sangs [Checkers assistant coach Bobby Sanguinetti] did a really good job of keeping everybody sharp mentally, focused and engaged. That just goes to show that when you have that type of leadership and coaching staff, you get guys to buy in.”
That group of seven included a rookie (Dennis Cesana) two players in their first seasons in North America (Calle Sjalin and Santtu Kinnunen), a second-year pro (Matt Kiersted) and a player who entered the season with 16 pro games played (Johnny Ludvig).
Bitetto - who skated in his 500th pro game this season - brought some much needed experience and helped that group mesh.
“I’m not going to wow you with some goals,” said Bitetto. “But being a good teammate is definitely something I take pride in.”
Heading into the summer as a free agent, Bitetto knows things can be unpredictable when it comes to where he’ll suit up next season. But it’s clear that Charlotte left a mark on the veteran.
“My wife loved the city here, our daughter loved it,” he said. “She was at pretty much all the games that were at six especially. It’s a great place to play. Like I said, I’m getting older, I don’t know how many years I’ve got left, but this is definitely a place that could be home. But we’ll see how that plays out. I had a lot of fun here.”