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Mitchell returns to practice

by Daniel Bordignon / Vancouver Canucks
Willie Mitchell suited-up and took part in team practice Tuesday morning at the Pacific Coliseum. The morning session was the first time he skated with the team since succumbing to back pain after a January 17th affair in Detroit. Following the skate, Mitchell announced that he intended to play in this Thursday’s competition with divisional foe the Minnesota Wild.

Mitchell skated for nearly two hours Tuesday morning, taking part in a 45 minute individual session with fellow injured defencemen Kevin Bieksa and then practiced with the team for one hour.

Mitchell has missed ten games to date after suffering from a fractured L2 vertebra in his back. The blueliner played nine games with the stress fracture after the original injury occurred in a December 27 match-up against the Calgary flames. Mitchell removed himself from the Vancouver line-up after the pain became unbearable and he lost control of his body’s performance. In his absence the Canucks have posted a 3-5-2 record and sit ninth in the Western Conference with 25 games remaining.

Mitchell has been skating on his own for the last two weeks and has been able to manage the pain while on the ice. There is still no definite timeline for Mitchell's return to the line-up. There is a possibility that he could play this Thursday against Minnesota, but also there is an equal chance that he will miss the Valentine's Day tilt.

“I can’t guarantee you I’ll play Thursday, but that’s my intention,” said Mitchell. “I’ve come this far and I don’t want to make it any worse, but I think I’m fully healed, or close to it. Obviously, it’s crunch time for us right now and I want to get back.”

Mitchell's return depends upon his ability to endure the pain and whether or not the injury will hinder his performance. While it is still reported that the extent of the injury cannot be worsened, rushing into the line-up without being 100% is still risky. With the recent struggles in the Canucks own zone there be some pressure for Mitchell to jump in to the line-up as soon as possible, but Vigneault stresses that he does not believe in forcing a player to play if they are not ready and confident in themselves.

“I don’t put pressure on players to play if they tell me their hurt. No organization can do that, players are the ones that have the ultimate decision, it’s not he doctors, it’s not the organization, it’s the player that says if he can go,” said Vigneault. “No organization would put a player in a situation in where his health might be in danger, you can’t do that.”

With that being said, it is no secret that Vigneault and all Canuck fans would love to see Mitchell back in the line-up.

“Obviously another healthy body on defence is definitely going to help us at this critical stage of the season, I haven’t talked to him but during practice he looked fine so we’ll see how he does tomorrow and he’ll let us know if he can play,” said Coach Alain Vigneault.

Although there has been no direct pressure placed upon Mitchell from team management, the blueliner says he does feel some indirect pressure to help his team down the stretch drive.

"As a player you do [feel pressure to get into the line-up]. Right now I think I can help out the team; I usually play my best hockey this time of year so I want to be in the line up," said Mitchell. "I think the pressure what you feel is from yourself, but it has to be a thing where you're smart about it and feel healthy, and I do and I feel ready to get out there."

Mitchell has played 47 games this year recording seven points (1-6-7), 60 penalty minutes, and a plus-7 rating.

7 - Points recorded this year (1-6-7)

- Games played with stress fractures
10 - Games missed to date

  47 - Games played this year

  3-5-2 - Cancuks record without Mitchell

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