The Marlies’ John Mitchell will tell you the difference between your first and third year in the American Hockey League.
In your first year, you might, if you are conscientious, give some thought to your opponent the day of the game.
By your third, you’re fishing for information and preparing the day before the game.
“At the pro level, it’s how well you do the little things that determine the player you are going to be,” said Mitchell, a Waterloo native who has notched three goals and two assists in the club’s first five games.
“One of the things I do, especially if I haven’t seen much of the team, is go on-line and try to get a feel about who their best players are and who is playing well.”
The night before, Mitchell is scripting the game in his mind.
“I might do it, even watching a dull show on television,” he said. “I go back to my last game and replay all the things I did right. If I took a hit to make a play, if I shot the puck and then went to the net, I replay that and I imagine myself doing it the next day.”
Mitchell’s assent up the professional ranks will come with just that kind of careful attention to detail. He is big enough, at six-foot-one, and fast enough but at the NHL level, neither his size or his speed would stand out as exceptional.
He was a consistent, but not altogether prolific scorer in junior. His best season with the Plymouth Whalers netted him 28 goals, but he can see the ice, in junior he averaged two assists for every goal.
Comfort is the key. The key to that comfort is preparation. Once on the ice, Mark Messier’s axiom carries the day: don’t think.
“It’s true. The brain is stronger than any computer,” Mitchell said. “But if the puck comes to you and you are thinking about all the different options, it’s not going to work. Sometimes, I will get the puck and my feet will just stop moving. (Coach) Greg Gilbert, when I get back to the bench, will stay ‘stop thinking’ and he’s absolutely right.”
After scoring five goals in 51 games as a rookie, Mitchell tallied 16 times last season and is on pace for even headier numbers for a Marlies club that has won four times and lost in a shootout.
Not bad for a player who never really considered an NHL career until he was 15. Like any kid, Mitchell would admit to wanting to play in the league but it wasn’t until his father broached the idea of an agent that the notion took flight.
“I didn’t realize I was about to be drafted into the Ontario Hockey League until halfway through the year before I was going to become draft eligible. I was going to Kitchener Rangers’ games, but just to hang around with girls. That’s when my Dad suggested we talk about getting an agent.
“I think it was better that way for me. You see kids today who are talking about getting drafted four years before their draft year. It’s way too early. I’m glad my Dad didn’t mention it until he did.”
Mitchell is coming off a four point weekend in which he recorded three power play points. He is playing with wingers David Ling, Colin Murphy, as well as defensemen Anton Stralman and Derrick Walser on the man advantage.
It’s about time Mitchell drew a look from the Maple Leafs. He hasn’t played a regular season game but played well enough in the exhibition games and even scored a goal in Boston.
Part of his preparation is the recognition that he has been a traditionally slow starter. Now, Mitchell knows early season games hold the same currency as late-season contests.
“That is something I really wanted to focus on. It comes down to preparing, getting your rest, filling the grocery cart up with the right things. Whatever it takes to come here and have a good start, I’m going to do.”
For more on Mitchell and the Marlies visit torontomarlies.com