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Mitchell Sees Great Progress from NHL on Illegal Hits

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings

Willie Mitchell, whose NHL career was once put in jeopardy because of a dangerous blindside hit, has not been shy about criticizing the NHL’s efforts to protect players.

It’s not all negative from Mitchell, though. Asked on Friday for his thoughts on the league’s latest efforts to regulate bad hits -- spearheaded by new discipline guru Brendan Shanahan -- Mitchell spoke glowingly of the league’s effectiveness.

This week, all NHL players were required to view a video that outlined and explained which hits are deemed illegal. Shanahan also drew praise for his quick, decisive suspensions after ugly hits by Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond and Jody Shelley.

"Obviously you can see early on, they're saying, 'We're going to take care of our players. They're important assets to this game,'" Mitchell said. "We all like to play the game hard and we all like to play physical and stuff. I love to do that, but I also want my peer to be healthy when he's done playing hockey.

"We need to get to a point where we can keep it a physical game, but everyone can walk away from the game for the most part healthy."

Mitchell missed nearly half of the 2009-10 season when, while playing for the Vancouver Canucks, he went head-first into the end boards after a blindside hit from Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin.

Mitchell experienced intense, prolonged concussion symptoms for months but eventually was cleared and signed a two-year contract with the Kings in 2010.

Mitchell and his teammates watched the league’s new illegal-hits video on Tuesday, and Mitchell gave it a four-star review.

"It was excellent," Mitchell said. "I've been, I wouldn't say calling out anyone, but I've been saying what I think on things. I'm not saying it to be an ass toward anyone. I just think, a lot of times in life, you should stand up and be accounted for. I did think that they could have been more aggressive (in the past) with the things they've done. The first thing I'd like to say is that, from last year to this year, the videos that they sent out have been so professionally done.

"It's hands down, night and day over what we saw last year. The stuff they had on there last year, the same check was on there for a legal hit and an illegal hit. Players were in that locker room saying, 'Which ones were legal? Which ones were illegal?' You couldn't even tell. They did such a tremendous job with the video this year, defining the terms, the rules but also showing examples of that, slowing it down and talking about it. It was a good job. (Shanahan) and Matt Schneider did that, and I thought it was an excellent job."

An ugly incident took place during the overtime shootout in a preseason game between Philadelphia and Detroit on Thursday night in London, Ontario.

Wayne Simmonds, the former Kings winger now playing for the Flyers, went in for his shootout attempt and an unidentified fan through a banana on the ice in the direction of Simmonds, one of the few black players in the NHL.

Simmonds responded with grace, as he told Philadelphia reporters after the game that the incident was "just somebody being ignorant" and said he would "try not to think about stuff like that."

Simmonds played for three seasons with the Kings under coach Terry Murray, who said he never experienced any racist language or actions directed toward Simmonds.

"No. No racial comments by anybody," Murray said. "Never heard anything, never saw anything. Have I ever seen it before? Yeah, I sure have. (While coaching,) I had a player in Florida, Peter Worrell, and he went through quite a bit playing in the Quebec Major Junior League. Even playing in the pros, I didn't see it or hear it, but there was an
article written at one time where a player said something during a game that was kind of (captured) on video. It was never proven to be true. I think we're by that stuff.

"It's unfortunate what happened last night. I feel bad, but I know Simmer well enough that he's going to move on, and that's a good thing. Clearly what happened in London last night should never happen, anywhere. We're in 2011, my goodness. Let's get with it here, people, and know that the athletes are athletes. It's an unfortunate incident."

Starting with Sunday’s game against Anaheim at STAPLES Center, the Kings will play five exhibition games in seven days, concluding with the Frozen Fury game in Las Vegas on Oct. 1 and an overnight flight to Germany.

Murray has started preparing his team already. In training-camp sessions Friday, the groups were reorganized, with 23 skaters and two goalies in a single group. Because they are opening the season in Europe, the Kings will be allowed to take 24 players to Europe, one more than the usual NHL roster limit.

"It's time to get your team starting to get ready," Murray said. "The guys who were with the (morning) group were the players we feel deserved to be there. We're giving a big push to getting ready for the five games in seven days. Still, we can change players. If we see something that is really good with the younger guys in the (afternoon)
group, we can easily do it. We'll keep everybody focused and enthusiastic."

The Kings will arrive in Germany late on Oct. 2, then play an exhibition game in Hamburg on Oct. 4 followed by regular-season games on Oct. 7 and 8.

To help with the transition, the Kings have been getting direction from a sleep consultant, who was in El Segundo today to talk to the team and give advice about the best way to deal, physically, with the travel. Based on those recommendations, for instance, Terry Murray will hold his practices at 5 p.m., rather than the morning practices he would normally have in Los Angeles.

"What he talked about in the summer time was actually trying to make the adjustment to go to the European time," Murray said. "So everything is later, with the practices. He wants you to stay up real late the night you arrive. Enjoy Oktoberfest, that kind of idea. `Oh, OK, we can do that.' [laughs]"

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