Willie Mitchell of the Kings battles for position with Adam Henrique of… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
For Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell, the off days have been the hardest ones to get through. That’s when his very active mind takes over.
He has played 719 regular-season games, making his NHL debut with the Devils in 2000 and appeared in his first playoff game in 2003 with the Minnesota Wild.
At 35, he is within one game of winning the Stanley Cup. Big minutes in the playoffs have been less of a problem than getting through non-game days, of late.
“Your mind wanders a little bit, to be honest,” Mitchell said. “Game day because it’s such a routine and you’re trying to find your routine to do what’s best for yourself and for your teammates, you just kind of narrow in on that. Same old song and dance, I guess.”
He was speaking to a small group of reporters at Wednesday’s morning skate, a few hours before Game 4 against the Devils at Staples Center. Mitchell, one of the most-accommodating and affable players in the league, was trying to keep a tight rein on his feelings.
“It’s a lot of emotion, and not try to get away from it to be honest, but it’s only human nature,” he said. “On the off day, you just think about the long journey. You think about when you started hockey at age 3 or 4. Moving away from home at the age of 15 to pursue a career in the National Hockey League, that was the ultimate. And win a Stanley Cup.”
He used the words “pretty surreal” to describe the Kings' run.
A concussion threatened Mitchell’s career as recently as two years ago when he was with the Canucks. He couldn’t read or drive his car and retreated to his cabin in remote British Columbia to recover and escape from questions about his future.
It was clear Mitchell was already feeling emotional Wednesday morning.
“You try to nip it in the bud a little bit, embrace it but not let it consume you,” he said. “Once it’s game day, it’s pretty easy till you get these questions.”
He didn’t want to go into detail about who had been in contact with him recently from his hockey-playing past, promising to talk about it later.
Teammate Dustin Penner, who won a Cup with the Ducks five years ago to this day, spoke about Mitchell’s meaning to the team. Mitchell had a career-high in points (24) in the regular season and has been playing heavy minutes in the playoffs.
“For a guy like Willie Mitchell, when you mention he gets emotional, rightfully so,” Penner said. “He’s played his whole career to get a chance like this. That’s one of the subplots of the playoffs for us, getting a chance and hopefully winning it for a guy like him.”
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