A teary-eyed Willie Mitchell in an interview with MayorsManor a few days after the Kings won the Stanley Cup was one of the lasting memories of the team’s dramatic run through the playoffs. After all, he had given us a passionate plea from deep in his soul just a few months earlier, where he explained his desire to win the most coveted trophy in sports.
Then, during the lockout, when people spoke about the Kings, they almost always mentioned how incredible it was that GM Dean Lombardi was bringing back his entire roster, completely intact.
Not so fast.
Two weeks ago, just as word was leaking out that the lockout was about to end, came the fly in the ointment – Mitchell’s knee wouldn’t be ready to go at the start of the truncated 48-game season.
In early December Mitchell was working out, doing squats with his trainer, and the knee was giving him some trouble. A visit to the doctor showed there was nothing major going on, but he needed surgery. After a few weeks of recovery, he re-aggravated it and things have been a little complicated ever since.
That’s why people have been vague this week when talking about a possible return date. Things remain a little up in the air at the moment.
“It blew up on me,” Mitchell said yesterday, minutes after testing his knee on the ice for the first time in 2013. “Obviously it blows up for a reason. It’s the body saying, ‘A little too hard, a little too much.’…I’ve never had anything with my knee before, I’m learning that inflammation basically just shuts it down. So, I’m just trying to keep all the inflammation out of there and gradually progress to where it’s not 0-to-60 and your body says ouch and all of a sudden puts a bunch of inflammation in there.”
So, what let to the set back just before New Year’s?
“Sometimes you can hyper-extend it just because the inflammation can cause you to lose control of your muscles around it and stuff,” explained Mitchell. “Basically that’s what happened to me. I got all the inflammation in there the first time, and it became unstable. I kind of hyper-extended it once while walking.”
Michell went on to say that he was sort of lucky it happened in the off-season, while he was back home in British Columbia, because he was able to go to the same clinic he visited previously - they had copies of an MRI on the same done in 2009 when he played for the Canucks.
“It was just a patella tendinitis issue in Vancouver, but because my knee wasn’t bothering me they never told me about it,” Michell stated. “So I think just the wear and tear of what we do – I’ve been (playing) since I was 10 years old, it just starts to get you. So they just went in and cleaned it up, not a big procedure. A lot of guys have this all the time - no ligaments, nothing like that.”
And what led him to test it now? Mitchell channelled a little Darryl Sutter on this one.
“Skaters skate and sprinters sprint, right?”
The funniest part of the full interview – unintentionally – may have been when he shared this – “(Wayne) Simmonds, two years ago I think it was, was actually lying in bed. He woke up with some pain lying in bed and the next day he came in and ended up having his done…It could show its ugly head at any point in time.”
So, the bed bugs got Simmonds, is that what he’s saying?
Serioulsy though, what’s next and how far along is he at this point? Maybe 50% of the way back?
“Percentages hey? You’re a percentage guy, hey? Likes to quantify things,” Mitchell shot back with a laugh. “I can’t say that. I just twirled around…A long ways away from (the day I had surgery), but I can’t put a percentage on it. It’s just nice to be on the ice, nice to twirl around like I just did and to gradually make increments and progress – to get to a point where I feel comfortable stopping, starting; doing all that.”
He said he didn’t have any pain either after taking his first laps around the ice in nearly two months. That has to at least be encouraging.
Still want more? Here’s five-plus minutes of the interview, where in typical Mitchell fashion, he talks a lot and provides detailed answers to every question asked. If we had to put a percentage on it, the above recap gave you about 33% of what he really said.
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Cover image on homepage was taken by Chasen Ikiri of Ikiri Photography