As a member of the Clarkson University Golden Knights
(an NCAA Division 1 school in New York), Mitchell was a powerhouse defenceman with the ability to not only shutdown the opposition, but also collect his fair share of points.
The Port McNeill product scored 19 goals and added 36 assists in 68 games between 1997 and 1999; he was the go-to guy for timely plays at both end of the rink.
Since joining the Canucks two seasons ago, Mitchell has been a suffocating staple on the blueline, his uncanny ability of holding the NHL’s elite superstars off the scoresheet making him a fan favourite.
This season he’s still that same rugged player, except with a twist.
In a return to his glory days, Mitchell is collecting points like never before having already set a new career high with a lot of hockey left to play.
His secret? Cliff Ronning
It seems the Canucks legend played a big part in Mitchell stepping up his game offensively and all it took was a little hounding from the wiley veteran. Ronning wasn’t convinced that Mitchell was getting the most out of his shot, suggesting he switch to Warrior sticks.
“Ronning was all over me to get into them,” laughed Mitchell. “He’s a pretty sharp guy, everyone knows him, he’s a rink rat and obviously a good alumni here, he’s a good man, so he got me into them.
“He just said ‘hey Willie, I’ll take care of you, I know your shot, I know how much ice you take, I know what flex you need.’ He basically teed it up for me, I told him the curve I like and he got everything going.”
A crate of Warrior Dolomite Spyne
sticks arrived for Mitchell this season and a boost on offence soon followed.
He was quick out of the gates with five assists through 10 games to start the year, he then tailed off a bit before producing at a rapid pace in January. Mitchell has two goals and three assists in eight games this month allowing him to boast the most impressive numbers of his career.
Through 46 games Mitchell has 15 points (3-12-15), one point better than his career high, and as silly as it sounds, the new sticks are a big reason for his success.
“They’ve been terrific so far. They feel good for passing, they feel great for shooting and it’s just balanced really well.
“When you have equipment as players, I know this sounds weird, but when you have skates or sticks that feel really, really good, your game feels great. I’ve been fortunate this year that my skates and sticks have been feeling really good.”
Mitchell’s new weapon of choice features “A lab tested, ice-proven, rogue-engineered blade design for unbeatable reaction and stability,” according to the Warrior website
No, he’s not using them because all the cool kids seem to be, including Nicklas Lidstrom and Dion Phaneuf, although it was the play of defenceman Sheldon Souray that led to Mitchell wanting to rediscover his offence.
With only 23 points (3-20-23) in his first two seasons in Vancouver, Mitchell wanted to be a bigger part of the team. That ultimately meant shooting the puck more, something he committed to doing before the season started.
“Look at a guy like Souray, he’s a more offensive defenceman because that’s what he does well is shoot the puck.
“Me, I kind of pride myself on defensive play, but I wanted to take my game to another level so I looked at a guy like that and that’s all he does, he gets it and he shoots it at the net.
“It took him a while, he wasn’t an all-star until he started to put up points in Montreal and that’s all he did was shoot, shoot, shoot. I looked at a guy like that and figured I’ve got a decent shot and I shoot it pretty hard, maybe I should shoot it more.”
Mitchell has already sent 56 shots towards opposing goalies, that’s five and half less than his average of 61.5 a season over the past six years. His career high is 67, a mark he’s hit twice, one he should abolish shortly after the all-star break.
“It’s like anything, when you stop a couple of good two-on-ones, for me as a defensive defenceman, it makes me very confident the next time I get a two-on-one and I feel like I’m going to stop it.
“I think when you start to get some success or rewards from shooting the puck on net, where your team scores a goal off of it, it starts to be infectious and you start doing it more and when you get rewarded for things in life, you start to do it a little more. So far I’ve been getting rewarded and I’m making an effort to continue to do it.”
To say the Canucks have simply benefited from Mitchell’s offence is laughable; they’ve been dominating when he records a point. Vancouver is 8-3-1 when Mitchell is in on at least one goal, but fear not, these stats aren’t going to his head.
For the first time in his career Mitchell is happy with the balanced he’s achieved between offence and defence, so he isn’t about to get greedy for more on either side.
“I’m just trying to shoot it more, it’s not like I’m going to be pinching in more and doing all those things, just when I get it at the point, make the quick one move and get it to the net and shoot it and shoot it hard.
“For me, there’s nothing more rewarding than playing against the best players in the world and frustrating them and keeping them off the scoresheet, that’s the most satisfying thing.”
He may be reaching for the skies a lot more these days, but it seems with Mitchell, the more things change, the more they stay the same.