Tomorrow night’s game will be meaningful for Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell on a few levels. It will be his first game with the Kings, his first game against his former team, a game near his hometown of Port McNeill, B.C., and, most importantly, his first regular-season game since he suffered the third concussion of his NHL career, on Jan. 16. Here’s what Mitchell said today about his emotions leading up to the season opener…
Question: I imagine you’re on the hook for a few tickets…
MITCHELL: “Roberto (Luongo) has a suite. He uses it for charity, and sometimes when he doesn’t use it for that, he will personally use it. So I called him ahead of time, right after I signed, and got the suite there. And I’m still on the hook for a few tickets.”
Question: Certainly this game would be meaningful to you anyway, since it’s your return to the NHL, but does it mean something more given that it’s Vancouver?
MITCHELL: “Actually, I feel lucky. Some guys might have different emotions, but I feel lucky to go back there and play my first game. Obviously I played preseason games, and that was a big emotional kind of hurdle, going out and getting hit for the first time. That’s big when you’re coming off an injury like this. But to go back there and play my first game since my last game, Jan. 16 against Pittsburgh, and being around all my family and friends and my peers and good friends on that team, it’s nice. The training staff there was part of that long road with me, so I’m sure they will be excited to see me on the ice as well. Doc [Mike] Wilkinson and everyone. So it will be nice that everyone is there. It’s different, because I wasn’t there when these teams met up in the playoffs. For this club, they want to see how they stack up against Vancouver in a rematch. What I saw then was a good young team, starting to find their groove, and that’s why I decided to come here. It will be nice to be on this side of the ledger and try to help out against a good team over there.”
Question: What were you doing during that first-round series? Did you watch?
To be honest, I didn’t. I did for a little while. When you have a physical injury, a concussion, there’s also an emotional side. When there’s stress, what does it do? It gives you a headache. If your brain is damaged — and that’s what a concussion is — and you have stress in your life, it’s not going to get better. So as much as it hurt me to do it, I just kind of disconnected until I started feeling better. The L.A. series, I watched a little bit, casually, and then I started to get some phone calls from friends on the team who were penalty killers. [laughs] And assistant coach Rick Bowness, who does the penalty kill. They said, `Willie, what’s going on?’ Sometimes when you’re outside of the box, sometimes you see different things, so they were just calling me for some advice. So when that happened, I kind of got engaged again, trying to help out in that way. I couldn’t help out on the ice, but maybe my experience, and what I do on the penalty kill, could help the team. That was in Games 5 and 6. So I didn’t really see a lot of the series, to be honest. It was my choice, like I said, because I didn’t want that stress of not being involved. It was going to really hurt me, as far as my healthy process. It will be really nice to get back there, and it will be a lot of fun.”