Willie Mitchell and evolving expectations
I had been planning on writing my weekly LAKings.com feature on the club’s young defensemen, and Darryl Sutter’s acknowledgement of how integral they’d be towards any type of playoff run.
And then I spoke with Willie Mitchell earlier today. I had been planning on asking him about several of the young blueliners with whom he has partnered with during his tenure as a King. His response, in which he runs through the spectrum of his experience with Los Angeles, beginning with watching the team while he was sidelined as a member of the Canucks in 2010, is a good read. Consider this a preview of this week’s LAK.com story.
Willie Mitchell, on what the team’s expectations were when he arrived in Los Angeles, and what the team’s expectations are heading into the 2014 postseason:
Coming here, the team was on the uptrend a little bit. That was part of the reason why I came here when I did. The team [was] in the playoffs, played us in Vancouver, had a decent series against Vancouver. This group in here thought they actually should’ve beaten Vancouver in that series. But that belief that they thought they could have was part of a motivating factor for me to come here because I thought they played OK against Vancouver. I think they just actually at that time of the year thought they were a little bit better than what they were. I wasn’t playing – I had a concussion. But Vancouver kind of dominated the five-on-five play, and there were a lot of special teams, and L.A. was great on it. Drew was exceptional that year on the back end. I think L.A. scored some timely goals to have some tight games but they weren’t quite as deep as maybe Vancouver was at that point in time. The expectation then was to get back to the postseason and be that young up-and-coming team that makes some noise, and then those things started to transpire, and I think when you start to get that up-trend, and you have a little bit of adversity, it actually helps you in the long run. We all saw that when we won. We went through a lot of adversity and you get yourself out the other side and realize, ‘OK this is what it takes to win, and this consistency, this type of game,’ and we found our identity as a hockey club. I’m sure Darryl was a part of that, but we had a good foundation from Terry [with] the defensive side of the game, found a little bit more consistency to our game and a little bit more jam, I guess you could say, playing a big, strong, fast game. So then, yeah, you win, and the majority, if you look around…is still here, so yeah, the expectations are very big. I didn’t play the lockout-shortened season. The team went to the Western Conference Final, had some bumps along the way. To win, you’ve got to play well, but you also get lucky, and when we made our run, we were pretty injury-free, right? We’re a little bit deeper, I’d say, now, and I think the expectation is hopefully we go through without any injuries, but if we have some, we’re going to be able to handle those maybe a little bit easier. We know the road’s not going to be 16-4. That was pretty exceptional. You’ve got to win it all different types of ways, and I think the expectation now is that we want to win a Stanley Cup. We’re one of those teams that we know our game plays well at this time of year. Everyone believes that, and when you believe as a hockey club, it can go a long ways. So I think that’s the expectation of the organization right now, is win now, and anything less than that – that son of a [gun] again – it’s a failure. That’s what we want to do.