Willie Mitchell – Good Luck in Stanley Cup Final!
May 21, 2012 | 853 Views
VANCOUVER — When Willie Mitchell heads up to the West Coast Fishing Club for the ’Fishing for kids’ charity derby in British Columbia’s Queen Charlotte Islands at the end of this summer and meets with various members of the Vancouver Canucks, they’ll have a few stories to swap.
Mitchell qualified for his first shot at the Stanley Cup this week when his L.A. Kings made the final and now his former teammates will go through what he did last season, which is sit and watch someone else try to win hockey’s ultimate prize.
“That wasn’t easy for me to watch last year when Vancouver made their great run because in a way, I felt or thought I felt a part of it,” said Mitchell from L.A. where he will soon get onto a plane and head to New York where the Kings will stay for the final which begins Wednesday in Newark, against the New Jersey Devils.
“In many ways in my first year here my heart and mind was essentially still in Vancouver to some extent. Everyone knew I loved playing for my hometown team and in fact that was one of the first things [Kings GM] Dean Lombardi said to me when we talked. He said he respected the bleep out of the fact I was loyal to that team and that I was still trying to make it work there. And it made me feel good that he understood and respected it.
“There was no real hard feelings, I understood where they wanted to go with their team. I talked about it with [Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis] at the time and we knew there were the health risks after my concussion and they made me an offer for one year at a little less than half of what the Kings were offering.
“Washington and San Jose actually offered me more than L.A. for one year but I wanted to go somewhere for at least a couple of years and get planted. I knew L.A. had a good young team that had some potential and I’m just so happy it’s worked out as well as it has. I’ve played the game since I was four years old and now you finally get a chance to do what you’ve always dreamed of doing in those games you’ve played growing up. It’s pretty cool I have to say.”
Two years ago, the summer Mitchell departed for LA, he, Dan Hamhuis and Manny Malhotra (and perhaps others) were up at the Fishing Derby along with Paolo and Francesco Aquilini, Gillis and Canucks assistant GM Laurence Gilman to promote the cause and to relax a bit before the season began.
The feelings and emotions were not strained at all according to the pride of Port McNeill, B.C..
“In fact that year I caught the biggest fish and won the $170,000 first prize and as is the tradition with us all up there we donated it back and I was able to give half to Paolo for the Autism Network he works so hard for and half to the [Vancouver] Children’s Hospital and it felt really good to be able to tangibly, almost thank them in a way for the time I had in Vancouver.”
Mitchell has been part of a team that made a similar run like the Kings have fashioned when he was in Minnesota when the Jacques Lemaire-coached Wild upset Vancouver in the second round in ’03 and went to the Conference final.
But he says the only similarity between that team and this year’s Kings is coaching.
“When we found out Darryl [Sutter] was coming in, all anyone would say is that ’he’s really demanding of you as a player.’ And it’s funny because we didn’t know anything else about him as a coach. But when he got here we found he is organized and makes good adjustments on the go. A coach is really important with teams now. But that’s about the only similarity I can see.
“We felt in Minnesota that we were really underdogs all along but with this team. Yes we finished in eighth place, but up until the last day of the season we were just a point out of third in the conference in a pretty tough division. We felt over the past half of the season we were a much better team, even though it took us a while to figure out how to score goals once the changes were made. We got a couple of big wingers in to get puck to our skill guys a little more and then when [Jeff] Carter got here, guys were more in their natural positions and that helped. We don’t feel the same as that team did.”