MONTREAL - Spending the entire summer training on home turf is a luxury Torrey Mitchell hasn't enjoyed for quite a while.
After renting out his offseason house in South Burlington, VT, though, the Greenfield Park native has been a mainstay in the Bell Sports Complex gym since returning from a three-week family trip to visit his in-laws in Montana in April.
By his own account, this year marks the first time the Canadiens' No. 17 has been a full-time Montrealer in the months of May, June, July and August since playing prep school hockey at The Hotchkiss School in Connecticut in his late teens.
It's been a welcome change for the now 31-year-old forward - and father of two - who made the University of Vermont his primary summer training ground year and year dating back to his playing days with the Catamounts between 2004 and 2007.
"I'd say it was my first whole summer in Montreal since I was maybe 17 or 18. It's been great. I actually really loved it, especially having my parents and my friends around. These are guys I grew up with that are sort of in my trusted circle. I've been able to fully, fully reconnect with them as opposed to just talking every now and again over the last 15 years," said Mitchell, who resides on the South Shore with his wife, Brindy, and daughters, two-year-old Kate and nine-month-old Emma.
"It's good to be back in the circle of the family barbecues and the family dinners downtown. We've been going to all kinds of restaurants," added Mitchell with a smile. "Some of those guys have kids, too, so it's a really good atmosphere for my family. It really does feel good."
That trip to Montana, meanwhile, afforded Mitchell some all-important downtime before getting back to work with fellow veterans and Canadiens young guns as part of a training group being led by strength and conditioning coach, Pierre Allard.
"I did a lot of chilling and relaxing out there. My in-laws have about 20 acres in Manhattan, Montana just outside Bozeman. It's surrounded by farms, but they don't have any animals. I actually played golf almost every day," said Mitchell, who thoroughly enjoyed his extended stay in Big Sky Country. "You feel like you're almost disconnected being that far out west. It kind of let me hit the reset button before coming back to Montreal and starting to work out again. I wouldn't mind making it a routine now every summer."
These days, his routine includes four to five on-ice sessions per week on top of his standard gym workouts. Skating with the likes of Max Pacioretty , Alexander Radulov , Paul Byron , Mike Condon , Nikita Scherbak and Mikhail Sergachev, Mitchell is gearing up for his 10th NHL season after making previous stops in San Jose, Minnesota and Buffalo before coming on board at the trade deadline in March 2014.
"It's crazy. I guess I'm one of the older guys on the team now. That's pretty ridiculous. Time has flown by. My body feels really good. I don't feel any older, even if I'm getting older," cracked Mitchell, who made his NHL debut all the way back on October 4th, 2007. "I'm just happy that I've had the opportunity - and still have the opportunity - to play for Montreal. That was always a dream of mine. It's everyone's dream growing up in this city."
Despite matching his highest point-total since 2011-12 with 11 goals - a personal best - and 19 points in 71 games last season, Mitchell knows he'll be counted upon to be a more consistent contributor while continuing to lead by example in the locker room. If anyone understands the expectations that come with plying your trade in Montreal, it's a local product like him who grew up watching the club in his own backyard.
"I think this is a huge year for a lot of guys, myself included. I'd like to follow up the start I had last year [when he put up up five goals and eight points in the month of October alone]. That's my goal. We need to get back on track. Those are the expectations, otherwise there are going to be more changes," said Mitchell, referencing the recent transactions that brought Radulov, Shea Weber and Andrew Shaw , among others, into the Canadiens' fold.
Make no mistake about it, though. Mitchell is adamant that the 2016-17 edition of the Canadiens boasts a group capable of making some serious noise when it counts the most.
"With obviously getting our best player back in Carey, with the moves that were already made, and with everyone coming to training camp healthy, my honest opinion is that we're going to be Stanley Cup contenders. I think we really are," concluded Mitchell. "That start of last season before things unravelled is the optimism I think I share with everyone on the team and in our organization. That's the direction we're headed in right now."