|Mitchell's strange trip to the Stanley Cup finals|
|Written by Andrew Knoll|
|Monday, 04 June 2012 18:00|
Willie Mitchell has been a fan favorite in just about every city he's played in. His steady play has finally been rewarded, however, as Mitchell and the Kings are now two games from the Stanley Cup.NEWARK, N.J.- What a long, strange trip it's been for Los Angeles Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell.
His journey to Stanley Cup glory began in New Jersey and depending on how the series unfolds it may end there with his hoisting the Cup as a member of the Kings.
"To kind of come full circle, come back to where I got learned so much and got my start and do that against a great organization, great people and such a winning tradition, it feels good," Mitchell said.
Mitchell was a long shot to make the NHL, an eighth-round pick identified by the Devils scouting staff. He played sparingly in parts of two seasons in New Jersey.
During their 2000 Stanley Cup winning season, Mitchell was a black ace and stood off to the side and watched the Devils celebrate.
When he had the opportunity to go to the parade, he opted not to for two reasons.
First, he was not a part of the playoff run and second, he wanted to get the hell out of a Turtlebrook Inn in West Orange, N.J.
Now, 719 regular-season games later, Mitchell reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time. Previously, his deepest run was with Minnesota in 2003, going to the Western Conference Final under former Devils coach Jacques Lemaire.
"At the time you probably thought it might happen a little bit sooner than it does to get the chance so I'm looking forward to this chance and having a moment like that," Mitchell said.
The Kings are one of the youngest clubs in the league. They feature three rookies and a host of Stanley Cup Final neophytes. Yet the 35-year-old Mitchell beamed for the long layoff between the Final and the Phoenix Coyotes series.
"All week in practice you could kind of sense him saying 'Can we get this going right now?' He's a very intense player who's unbelievable defensively" center Mike Richards said.
Mitchell has done his part and then some. His long reach, active stick, big body, sharp instincts and willing to sacrifice his body have continued to play a large part in the Kings' success.
"He keeps pucks out of our net, keeps guys from getting to the net and his big long stick does a lot of damage out there with defensive play,” center Jarret Stoll said. “He does a lot for us.”
He also has been critical in shutting down the Devils' top offensive players such as Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias.
"He's one of those players that's very important to their success. He plays a lot of important minutes, kills penalties and sees a lot of time against our top two lines," said Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador at the outset of the series."It's those unsung heroes that make the difference in this type of series."
Elias was in New Jersey when Mitchell debuted and so was Devils assistant Larry Robinson.
One day, Elias drove Mitchell nuts during a special teams practice where Mitchell was matched up with the Czech's power play unit.
"He kept sucking me in and Larry Robinson skated over to me and said 'Don't take the candy,'" said Mitchell, pointing to it as a subtle but distinct, career-changing moment.
Mitchell landed in Los Angeles before last season and signed a two-year extension this year. He was coming off a serious concussion that caused him to miss nearly half of the 2009-2010 season while skating with the Vancouver Canucks.
"I wasn't watching then. The added stress of watching the Finals going through an injury like that, it wasn't good for the brain," Mitchell said. "The stress of not doing I loved so much wasn't going to allow me to get better."
Mitchell resumed watching during last year's Final as his former mates from Vancouver fell to Boston in seven games.
This year, he hopes to be one of the players kissing Lord Stanley's Cup.
"Watching whoever it is hoist that big mug over their head is probably the most motivating thing you can watch as a professional hockey player," Mitchell said.
Photos by Getty Images
|Last Updated on Monday, 04 June 2012 19:54|