That’s not just Willie Mitchell spewing a canned answer or repeating post-season cliches and rhetoric when talking about his team. Coming into last night, he had played in 51 post-season games – third most on the Kings, behind only Mike Richards (63) and Rob Scuderi (61).
However, to fully understand where he’s coming from, you probably need to go back to August of 2010. Coming off of a concussion that had kept him on the sidelines for more than six months, he signed a contract to play the next two years in Los Angeles. And when he thinks back to what GM Dean Lombardi said to convince him to join the Kings, his memory is pretty clear.
“This was a good young team and he told me he wanted me to be a big part of it,” Mitchell began. “We have a good, young, emerging team who needs a defenseman to iron out the back end, so to speak – in his mind that’s what it was. For me, I just thought it was a great fit. A chance to play minutes and do what I think I can to help a team win. That’s why I came here and that’s why I resigned here – because I believe in the team.”
Although he’d probably like more wins, just about everything else has continued to get better since he originally signed on. Sure, there was a rough patch when the Kings replaced their coach earlier this year. But, after agreeing to a new two-year extension in February (a story first reported by MayorsManor about a month prior), the news was mainly positive.
In late February there was a big trade for Jeff Carter, the proven goal scorer they desperately needed. On the personal side of things, last week Mitchell was named LA’s Outstanding Defenseman for the regular season. Then, just last night, he scored a power play goal to put the Kings ahead 2-1 late in the second period versus the Canucks.
Of course, LA went on to win 4-2 and now lead the series 1-0. In a funny twist of fate though, Carter and Richards each played a major role in the victory. With three points on the night, Richards tied a career post-season high and Carter set up Dustin Penner for the game winning goal, one of his two assists on the evening.
A while back, I had asked Mitchell if he thought Carter being the third man in on his bromance with Richards would be a problem…
“I think you labeled it that, I didn’t say anything about no bromance, that’s for sure,” said Mitchell – with one of his trademark deep laughs.
After assuring him I’d go back and check the quote, through an even louder laugh he replied – “Yeah, you should check that! We had similar interests, that’s all it was.”
Then, as he almost always does, Mitchell went into story telling mode…
“I don’t live where Richie lives. I live in a totally different hood. We actually don’t hang out much.” he explained. “I’m north of where they are (closer to the Kings’ training facility in El Segundo). I’m near Venice Beach and Santa Monica. So, when the guys come up and visit me every once and a while, they’re like ‘Hey, this is all right over here.'”
Recalling a night out to Cirque du Soleil that started out at his house soon after Carter arrived in LA, Mitchell said “I think it was a scouting trip for Carts, if anything. He (needed) to find a place to live. So, I think he wanted to see what it’s like up there. They all love to give me the raz – ‘Oh Mitchie, it takes you a half-hour to get to the rink.’ But, I think they’re finally figuring out it’s only 20 minutes.”
When pressed if he thought Richards might get jealous should Carter decide to find a place near him, Mitchell continued to laugh before finding the words to answer. “I don’t know what there relationship is. Whatever it is, it is. As long as their relationship is good and they’re scoring goals, that’s all I care about. I’ll see Ritchie in the summer, we’ll drop a line fishing and have a beer.”
He’s probably just hoping they can’t plan that trip for the next few months. Mitchell is looking for the Kings to go deep into the playoffs this year and they started off on the right foot by earning a victory last night. But, it’s only one game. There’s still a lot of hockey left to play. Again, let’s look back a before we look forward.
“When LA played Vancouver (in 2010) and they lost, from outside anyways, it was the power play that got hot,” Mitchell surmised. “Really, the game of hockey, most of it’s played even strength. If you don’t dominate even strength – if you get lucky with a real good power play and really good penalty kill – you can squeak out a series. But, for the most part, you have to compete even-strength. In that series, Vancouver controlled the play even-strength. But, LA had a hot power play and Drew (Doughty) was playing phenomenal hockey at the time. He was a big factor in LA being in that series as much as they were.”
Since then though, regular games between the Canucks and Kings have been heated. Fans seem to be eating it up too, with many now calling the Canucks LA’s biggest rival. Mitchell went on to share his overall philosophy on the subject…
“I don’t think you really create a rivalry in one playoff series. To be brutally honest, this organization and us, as a team, we need to get into the playoffs more and further into the playoffs to create rivalries. Rivalries are created in the post-season. They’re not created during the season. They’re created in the post-season. If you look at all the good ones over history, that’s where they’ve been started. Playing each other all the time, it means that you’re successful, you’re getting to the playoffs all the time – the same two teams. And you’re running into each other in hard fought, physical series. That’s where we need to be…now it’s up to us to take the next step.”
Doing so will mean taking out his former team and a group of guys he played with for four seasons before coming to LA.
“Sure, I’m playing against a few good friends of mine on that team,” Mitchell said of the Canucks. “I always want to beat them and they always want to beat me.”
After the first round of what’s expected to be a long fight, Mitchell and the Kings have the upper hand. Life must be great, right? Well, it’s not all perfect. He said he’s had to turn his phone off for the time being.
“My family and friends are doing it all in good nature and good spirits and all that stuff. But, it becomes a distraction for me. I just want to focus on being the best teammate I can be at this time of year. That’s what it’s all about. I don’t have a Stanley Cup ring, I want one. I want a day with the Stanley Cup!”
Bringing everything back full circle, just how confident is he that this could be the year?
“I believe we have as good of shot as anybody in the post-season,” said Mitchell. “There’s not a team we can’t beat. I really do believe that. We have great goaltending, good defense, we’re starting to score some goals. We’re big, fast and we’re strong. Sounds pretty good to me.”