Willie Mitchell logged 30:19 of ice-time – despite bleeding severely when he took a puck in the face late in the third – as his Vancouver Canucks squeaked past the Dallas Stars 4-3 Saturday night.
It would have been easy for Mitchell to stay down on the ice after the shot from Stars sniper Brad Richards rode up his stick and caught him square in the mug. But seeing that Richards still had possession, Mitchell forced himself onto his feet, wobbly though they were.
Willie put himself back in harm’s way just a few seconds later as he jumped in front of a Niklas Hagman slapshot and blocked it with his right foot. Of course, the way Mitchell’s luck was going on this particular penalty-killing shift, the puck immediately bounced back to Hagman.
Seeing that the Stars forward had no play but to chip a backhand along the boards, Mitchell darted over, picked off the pass and cleared the zone. Banged and bruised after 20 seconds of unthinkable pain, Mitchell finally made it back to the bench, albeit with a lot of help from fellow PK guru Alex Burrows. The defenseman had done his job. With seven minutes to play, the Canucks were still up by one.
The shift certainly caught the eye of CBC’s Don Cherry, who raved about Mitchell after the game.
“They’re the warriors you win with,” said Grapes. “Get into the playoffs. Guys like him win.”
As he talked the CBC viewers through the replay, Cherry seemed more and more amazed.
“Let’s see Mitchell right here. This isn’t a warrior? He blocks the shot – wait until you see his mouth – keeps going – boy, wait until you see the cut on him. He goes out again… trying to block the shot again. Watch. I mean, this guy is a warrior. That’s the kind of guys you win with. He is something.”
With the Canucks still nursing a one-goal lead with less than twenty seconds to play, Mitchell was on the ice. Simply put, he had to be. In a game that had all the feel of a playoff encounter, coach Alain Vigneault knew his team needed #8 if they were going to take the two points.
In addition to a bloodied jersey, Mitchell capped the night with three blocked shots and two hits. He was even and showed a willingness to jump into the rush, as demonstrated by his three shots on goal. Willie’s best chance came on a first period 4-on-2 when he took a drop pass and blasted a one-timer that then Dallas goaltender Johan Holmqvist kicked out. But, of course, when discussing Mitchell, it’s the defense that most stands out.
Late in the first, Hagman picked up a loose puck in the slot and turned to fire a shot at Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo
. It could have been dangerous, but Mitchell skated over and belted Hagman to the ice before he could get the shot away. Luongo easily covered up.
Early in the third, with his team still killing off the Bieksa double-minor, Mitchell knocked the puck off Richards’ stick and out of the Vancouver end.
And, with less than three minutes to play, Mitchell came up big yet again, blocking a snapshot from Jere Lehtinen that looked destined to cause all kinds of trouble.
With Mattias Ohlund out of the lineup for the foreseeable future, the Canucks will need more efforts like this one from Mitchell. Fortunately for them, he was born for this time of year.