For his efforts in returning from a pair of knee surgeries that took away his 2012-13 season, defenseman Willie Mitchell has been selected by the Los Angeles chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association as the Kings’ nominee for the 2014 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, an award that annually commemorates a player’s “perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey.”
Mitchell, who turns 37 later this month, has averaged 20 minutes and 10 seconds of ice time while appearing in 72 of the team’s 77 games. He has one goal, 10 points, a plus-10 rating, and leads the team with 117 blocked shots.
“You understand that as the season goes, he gets back to that level,” Assistant General Manager Rob Blake said. “Obviously at that age, you have to put the work in in the off-season to be able to come back from a year-long injury.”
The trophy that was first awarded in 1968 was presented to Josh Harding of the Minnesota Wild one season ago in acknowledgement of the goaltender’s return to hockey after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
From the Los Angeles PWHA chapter:
Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell has long exemplified the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey that the Masterton is intended to recognize, most recently with his comeback from a knee injury that forced him to miss all of last season.
While with Vancouver, Mitchell sat out the last 34 games of the 2009-10 season and playoffs because of a concussion, an injury that made many teams reluctant to sign him when he became a free agent in July of 2010. The Kings signed him on Aug. 25, 2010, and he instantly became an integral part of their defense.
Mitchell was a key figure in their 2012 Stanley Cup triumph, bringing a physical presence, strong penalty-killing skills and a calm presence on defense. He also became a leader in the locker room and has regularly made himself available to the media to discuss hockey, fishing—his favorite off-season activity—and the many environmental causes that he favors.
Mitchell, who will be 37 on April 23, suffered a knee injury while preparing for the start of last season. His attempts at rehab didn’t work, because the knee continued to be painful and swollen, and he sought a second opinion. That led him to undergo a second procedure, which forced him to miss the entire season.
The Kings keenly felt his loss and scrambled to replace him. They lost to Chicago in the Western Conference finals, a series they felt they might have won if Mitchell had been healthy.
Mitchell returned this season and has been the steadying force the Kings needed. He was averaging 20:10 through Wednesday’s games, fourth on the team behind Drew Doughty, Slava Voynov and Anze Kopitar.