|photo courtesy of www.sharkspage.com|
When you talk to a professional athlete about their team’s performance you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get.
Will it be full of cliches and other non answers? Will the response include deflection, praise for the other team or even back-handed compliments?
With Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell it’s been the same thing all season – detailed and his honest perspective.
For example, after the Kings shutout loss to the Islanders at the end of a month-long road journey through February, Mitchell didn’t make excuses about travel or trap games. Instead he said, “I thought from the top all the way through, there wasn’t the same focus that we had in other games.”
Then, a little more than a week later, after losing 7-4 to the Red Wings (in a game they once trailed 7-1), he said “We played great against Detroit. I will sit there over and over again – I think the guys played excellent for two periods.” And just for good measure, later in the quote he said “We dominated that hockey game.”
You don’t always have to agree with him. But, he’s going to give it to you straight.
So, what’s his take on where things stand right now with the Kings?
After practice yesterday, he shared some thoughts on that exact question, as well as took a trip down memory lane – recalling being down 3-1 in the playoffs, not once, but twice before.
First, the Kings situation…
Mitchell – “We seem to have a lot of highs and then a lot of lows, the peaks and valleys. We need to find a more even-keeled presence with the team, top through bottom. You’re going to face adversity. You’re going to face a few bounces that don’t go your way over the course of the post-season, that’s reality. Every team goes through that. It’s the teams who don’t panic, play with composure under those situations and manage to buy time until things go in their favor – they keep their confidence – they have all those things that winning teams have.
“We have a young team. But, that being said, it’s the second trip here – (even though) it’s my first year with the team. But, we have to learn as a group, all of us, to play with a little more composure and just play our game, play our system and play it to our capabilities. Like I said, we need to be relaxed and calm, because in times of panic and in (similar) situations, if everyone’s playing their system, that’s what you fall back onto. That’s your structure. We need to do that in San Jose – and we’ve done that, at times. It’s just, we’ve had snippets where we’ve kind of gone through a slippery slope and let it get away from us. So, we need to go up to San Jose and do it for a full 60 minutes.”
On facing a 3-1 deficit before and trying to draw inspiration from it…
“I did it twice in one year with Minnesota (2003). We came back against Colorado and won game seven in OT. Then, we did the same thing against Vancouver. We were down 3-1 and came back in seven to beat them, not in OT, but we beat them handily in that game. I think that was the series I can reflect back on a little bit because the Canucks were up 3-1 in the series, but we felt we played a lot better than what the series shows. I think we can look upon that a little bit this series. I think we’ve played fairly well against that team over there (the Sharks). We’ve just had snippets of 20 minutes here, 20 minutes there in a couple of games that have really put us in this situation. So, I think we can look upon that and see that ‘you know what, we can score some goals against this team.’ They’re obviously a great team. But, we can score some goals against them and we’ve played well for large amounts of the series. If we can do that for 60 minutes, we can have some results and get back into this thing and take it home in seven.”
There you have it, from the heart and mind of one William Reid Mitchell.
He entered the playoffs this year with 45 NHL post-season games already under his belt, second most among the Kings’ defensemen (to Rob Scuderi’s 55 games).
Prior to scoring Tuesday night vs. San Jose (in game three of the series), his only other playoff goal was during that 2003 run he described above.
It was game five against Colorado, with his team’s back against the wall, down 3-1 in the series…
He scored the first goal of the game at 3:41 of the first period, setting the tone for what was to come.
Let’s see if history repeats itself tonight – on Mitchell’s 34th birthday.