The last time we saw or heard from Willie Mitchell was back on May 13th as part of locker cleanout day for the Vancouver Canucks.
His hair was scruffy and face was quite bristly.
He was agitated and on edge.
He was wearing his emotions on his sleeve while calling out the NHL for its lack of discipline towards Pittsburgh forward Evgeni Malkin after the Russian slammed Mitchell into the boards late in a 6-2 Canucks win over the Penguins at GM Place January 16th.
It was definitely a different Mitchell than Canucks fans had become accustomed to, but he was working his way through the aftermath of a nasty concussion and he wasn’t himself.
On Monday, with one crack of his larger than life stick, Mitchell made a smashing return to the hockey scene in Vancouver.
Skating with a handful of players and prospects, including Alex Edler and Brendan Morrison, Mitchell was jovial as he sweated his way through a 90-minute workout at UBC. His familiar ear-to-ear grin was back, so too was his thunderous shot. Mitchell teed off an a slapshot during an end-to-end rush drill, it missed the net and smashed the glass behind the goal.
He’s back, but back playing for who has yet to be decided.
Mitchell returned to the ice at the beginning of July and since that time he's been working with a trainer in Port McNeill as part of a “Rocky style training” program, which we’ll assume means all-out punching big slabs of meat before drinking raw eggs.
“I’ve done everything I need to do, I’m ready,” Mitchell said Monday. “I’m ready to play hockey and I’m excited about it, it’s a lot of fun. I’ve done a lot of hard workouts and a lot of hard workouts with teams around the league just to show them.”
The 33-year-old free agent defenceman, who spent the last four seasons with the Canucks and still isn’t ruling out playing for Vancouver this upcoming season, has felt it necessary to attend workout invites with NHL teams over the past few weeks to help not only prove his health is up to speed, but land him a contract before the start of the 2010-11 season.
“It was a hard workout, probably the hardest workout I’ve done of the bunch,” Mitchell said of his workout with the Canucks.
“I did V02 and windgate… I did all that stuff, which I thought was important for the Canucks. I did all the regular testing we do in training camp, but I did it early.”
Following my interaction with Mitchell Monday, here’s what we know: he looked good on the ice, his shot is scary and we’ll know soon enough which team he’s signing with.
Here’s the rest of the Mitchell scrum, freshly typed, just for you:
Mitchell on being courted by NHL teams:
“It’s nice, but obviously I would have envisioned a different scenario and that’s finishing out the season and going about that business. Life’s never predictable and you’ve got to enjoy the moment and enjoy the things that are happening. I’m obviously flattered that a lot of teams are interested and fortunately enough the main teams that are interested are teams that have a shot at winning it all and that’s what it’s all about.”
On whether his first choice is to stay in Vancouver:
“All that stuff is still on going so I can’t comment on that, I don’t think it would be fair to the people listening or reading it or even fair to the people I’m talking to. That’s all still on going.”
On if this incident has given him a different perspective on the game:
“Yeah, and I think in life in general. Control the things you can control and the other stuff just plays out, it’s no different than signing with a team here. I can’t control that, there’s a lot of moving parts to that, we all know that. There’s caps, teams and different fits and people have different interests. As a player, what I can control is what I’ve done and that’s work real hard. I’ve been skating for a long time, I’ve been skating since early July, that’s really really early for me, a month early, and I feel good out there. I feel ready, I feel a lot better than I usually do at this time of year. I still have some hurdles to do, obviously that’s get out and play in a game, it’s been a while, but I’m really looking forward to it.”
On whether there were times he wondered if he’d ever play again:
“Maybe the odd time. You ask any player who has gone through a severe injury, you have that thought and that’s part of the learning process within it. If you think that way, you’re not going to get healthy, I believe in the power of mind and feeling good and knowing that things around to get better and they will get better. Like I said, worry about what ifs really slows you down, it slows you down in life period and that’s what I’ve learned about this. It’s been a really good learning experience.”
On how many teams he’s workout for:
“A few. (three or four?) Yeah…it’s flatering that a lot of teams are interested and it’s important for me to go somewhere that is a good team and a good fit.”