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Closing in on 500

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

BROSSARD – Nine years after making his NHL debut, Torrey Mitchell is on the verge of reaching an important personal milestone.

The 31-year-old centerman is on track to play his 500th career NHL game on Super Bowl Sunday against the Carolina Hurricanes at the Bell Centre.

It’s an achievement the Canadiens’ No. 17 didn’t necessarily envision growing up in Greenfield Park – or early on in his professional career, for that matter – but everything ultimately worked out for the best for the Selwyn House grad, who couldn’t be prouder to be plying his trade on home turf these days for his hometown team.

“Looking back, I think I would’ve been happy with probably just getting drafted and playing just one game in the NHL. It seems like time has just flown by, but there have been a lot of great memories at the schools I’ve attended, the teams I’ve played on, and the coaches that have helped me over the years. Obviously, my parents have helped me out, too. There are a lot of people that I have to thank,” said Mitchell, who was a fourth-round pick of the San Jose Sharks – 126th overall – back in 2004, after wrapping up a two-year stint at The Hotchkiss School in Connecticut. “I guess I’ve been around for a little bit now. I’ve sort of always taken it one day at a time, so it’s been fun to be around that long.”

As a member of the Sharks for five seasons before moving on to Minnesota, Buffalo, and eventually Montreal, Mitchell had the opportunity to learn the tricks of the NHL trade from veterans who left a lasting impression on the former University of Vermont standout.

“Early on, Rob Blake and Jeremy Roenick were the two guys who stood out in San Jose. I played on a line with Roenick for almost two years, so he obviously had a huge impact the first two years. Rob Blake was my captain for one year. Those guys were real professionals, so it was good to be able to sit back and watch them do their thing,” explained Mitchell, who cracked the Sharks’ roster out of training camp as a rookie in 2007-08, and amassed a career-high 10 goals that season.

“It was great getting to know some of the guys I grew up watching and getting to play against some of my idols,” added Mitchell, who went on to set career marks with 14 assists and 23 points in 66 games with the Sharks during the 2010-11 campaign. “I’ll never forget my fourth game in the NHL. I faced off against Joe Sakic. That was pretty cool because he was my favourite player growing up. That was a pretty big moment from me.”

Like most players, though, Mitchell wasn’t immune to the injury bug. Fortunately, his most significant injury is long behind him. It came during the second practice of San Jose’s training camp in September 2008 when he suffered a broken left leg that forced him to miss the entire regular season. He returned come playoff time in the Western Conference Quarterfinals against Anaheim, but watching from the sidelines for months afforded him a new perspective on the game and life, in general.

“You just appreciate hockey a little bit more every time you come back from those injuries. That was a really bad one. I probably missed a total of – when it was all said and done – 120 games from it. It was like coming back and feeling like a rookie again after it,” said Mitchell. “It just gets you to appreciate being on the ice and enjoying the little things, even the daily things, like being able to walk down the stairs pain-free. Those types of things get you to appreciate the game more.”

He’s also learned that there’s a lot more to being an NHLer than putting up points. Being a good person and a good teammate goes a long way when it comes to sticking around hockey’s highest ranks for a significant amount of time.

“I’ve learned the importance of being a professional around the rink, respecting everyone around you and coming to work every day with a good attitude. You don’t think about it when you’re doing it, but it’s huge,” shared Mitchell, who signed a three-year contract with the Canadiens last June. “I think, especially over the years, when you bounce around a couple of different teams and there are only 700 players, coaches and players talk. I’ve learned that having that reputation of being a good person is probably the most important thing.”

With that in mind, Mitchell isn’t taking his longevity in the NHL for granted. Reaching the 500-game mark isn’t easy by any means, and hitting that number sporting bleu-blanc-rouge makes it all the more special.

“Every game playing here has significance,” said Mitchell who has six goals and 12 points in 41 games with the Canadiens this season. “Words can’t describe what it’s been like to be able to put on that uniform, especially being from here. While the majority of the games in my career haven’t been here, it’s still very special.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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