Earlier today Willie Mitchell and Justin Williams took part in an event hosted by Raytheon at Da Vinci High School. In general, it was a chance for kids to use some geometry & statistics to learn about the game of hockey.
From the moment the players arrived the kids were amped and the energy was high.
“I don’t think I’ve been around a crowd like this in LA since after we won the Cup,” Mitchell said. “It’s pretty cool, it’s a lot of fun. It seems to be a good gathering, and people are really excited.”
Spontaneous cheers of ‘Go Kings Go’ broke out several times and the students continually asked for photos and autographs, which they were never denied by either player.
“They wanted to know how to shoot the puck,” said Williams, when asked if the kids asked for anything else.
The always smiling and laughing – and sometimes verbose – Mitchell agreed.
“They asked a lot about the shooting itself because they’re doing the theory behind everything, trying to prove percentages and angles,” began the 35-year old defenseman. ”But a lot of them don’t know how to shoot, to prove those theories or percentages. Some didn’t know what they were supposed to do with their hands and how to shoot it. They were grabbing the stick, and they’d actually have their bottom hand in the right place, but shooting the wrong way and vice versa. So they just needed a few tips on that to understand how to shoot properly.”
After a little mentoring from the two pros, the kids picked up on things fairly quickly.
“It was cool, it was really fun, and you could actually see noticeable changes in their shot once they switched over and started to hit the net more and stuff like that. That started to engage them a little bit more and feel good about things.”
As you can imagine, it wasn’t long before the conversation turned to his health and the ongoing rehab of his injured knee. After all, one of the most lasting memories from the Kings’ run to the Stanley Cup was a teary-eyed Mitchell celebrating in the days that followed. Having not played a game this season though, he’s gone from ‘very close to returning’ to nearly MIA.
So how is he?
“I can’t answer that right now. I’ll answer that at the right time. When I answer it, that means it’s a good thing because it means I’m healthy and back out on the ice. That’s what I want first and foremost. I want to do that for my teammates, they’re the first people I want to do that for. Then, I want to do it for the organization. So I’ll answer that when the time’s right.”
That said, he did admit that sitting out has been a very frustrating process.
“It’s not doing something you’ve done your whole life. I love this game. I just like competing every day. I like the competition. I like going up against the best in the world and saying I beat them tonight. Or saying I matched up against them tonight, because that’s my job. That’s tough, and when the team doesn’t do as well when you’re out of the lineup; that makes it tougher. Because you want to help your teammates out. And just waiting. You have no control over when your body says all of a sudden, things are normal again.”
It’s just the latest setback in a career that’s been somewhat of a roller-coaster over the last few years and why those once-present tears were more than understandable.
“There’s a lot of emotion that goes into winning. It’s a long journey. Everyone has their own journeys and their own things that they reflect back on,” Mitchell shared. “We’ve all had different ones, and mine to get where I was with my colleagues last year, was reflecting upon some tough times I had as far as concussions, and I didn’t know whether I’d play hockey again. Everything I had done in my life to that point in time, to be able to have the chance to win a Stanley Cup, emotions do come out in those situations. They’re all good emotions; that’s for sure. I don’t try to hide from those but you can’t even compare the two. I’m going to get healthy. It’s just taking a little bit longer than I thought, (even though) some people might tell you it’s taken the exact amount of time it should.”
Being around Williams this afternoon was just a small reminder of how much he enjoys being with his teammates. And although it’s difficult to stay connected while the other 20-plus guys are practicing or playing nearly every day, Mitchell says he’s still finding ways to keep the bond tight.
“I’ve been around,” he said with a big smile. “They’re all good friends. I see them outside the rink. They know I’m there. They chat with me a lot and check in.”
So, the Prius makes it’s way down to Manhattan Beach?
“I upgraded buddy, I got my Model S Tesla!”
That’s the world’s first premium electric car, if you’re not up on your latest ‘zero emissions’ news.
Willie Mitchell, one tough environmentalist.
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