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From SoCal to SoFla

by Mike Lewis / Florida Panthers

Closing out the first day of Free Agency in June, the Florida Panthers made a splash signing two-time Stanley Cup Champion, D Willie Mitchell.

A veteran of 719 games over 13 NHL seasons, Mitchell brings stability, size and a rich resume of experience to the Florida blueline. Earning his second Stanley Cup Championship with the Los Angeles Kings this past June, Mitchell is coming off a summer he could only describe as “short and busy.”

Between vacation time, getting a day with the Stanley Cup, negotiating a contract and offseason training, the 37-year old had an incredibly eventful summer. Winning his first Stanley Cup back in 2011, Mitchell had a little more trouble figuring out what to do with on his day with the Stanley Cup the second time around.

“First time winning it, especially [as] a Canadian kid it’s your dream,” said Mitchell.

“As a young hockey player you grow up thinking about the Stanley Cup and what you’re going to do with it. So it’s really easy the first time. The second time, it was such a busy summer. It was ten days before [I got the Cup] and I still didn’t know what to do with it, except take it to my grandfather.”

Mitchell’s Grandfather Les Mitchell, had earned a tryout with the New York Rangers during the Original-Six era and was the first person on his list to bring the Stanley Cup to.

“He lives it through me still and is still with it at 90. So it’s pretty cool surprising him and chucking it on his lap.”

Getting the Stanley Cup for two nights, Mitchell also was able to go sailing around the harbor of Vancouver with Lord Stanley’s hardware and even took it on an outdoor adventure.

“I got up first thing in the morning and went fly fishing. I do a lot of fly fishing in remote areas in British Columbia and Canada. We grabbed a few helicopters and took it up to the middle of nowhere and fly fished with my buddies, it was pretty cool,” said Mitchell.

“I have this little personal raft boat for white water. So I chucked [the Cup] in the back and took it down a canyon. That was pretty cool, I got some pretty cool photos from it. That was kind of my day, then we had a party that night, it was a pretty memorable day.”

Well deserving of a Stanley Cup, Mitchell is known for his responsible defensive play on the ice, which includes sacrificing his body to help his team. Finishing the playoffs with 29 blocked shots and 34 hits in 18 postseason games for the Kings, he was also plus-ten and notched four points (1-3-4) on his way to the Stanley Cup.

Coming into an upstart, young environment with the Panthers, Mitchell will play the role of the ‘grizzled vet’ ready to help some of the youngsters on the roster with any questions they may have. After all, Panthers 2014 first overall pick, Aaron Ekblad was born in 1996, the year that Mitchell was drafted by the New Jersey Devils (8/199).

“I know what I’m here for. I’ve played a few games,” said Mitchell.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to be around some great peers, great teammates and great coaches. I’d like to think that I’ve been smart enough to listen to those good people and take some of their knowledge and experience. “

Mitchell knows from experience that it takes hard work to reach the promised land of hockey, but knows that the rigors of an 82-game schedule can take it’s toll. Mitchell finds that taking a step back even for a little bit can benefit the mental side of his game. His fishing hobby is what helps Mitchell escape a bit and it’s something about Florida that has already piqued his interest since arriving.

“I won’t lie I’m looking to find a boat down here,” laughed Mitchell.

“I like to come to the rink and work hard and do all the things I think you should do. But then also as soon as I’m out of the rink I think you need to get away from it, because otherwise it’s a long season you play a lot of games and it can be an overload. So for me getting on that boat is a little bit of therapy so you get out there and stop thinking about the game and just be. “

As the new guy in town there’s always an adjustment period, but for Mitchell one of the more familiar faces in the Panthers locker room is one from his past. Mitchell and Panthers netminder, Roberto Luongo spent four seasons together with the Vancouver Canucks (2006-10).

“Roberto is a top goaltender in this league there’s no doubt,” said Mitchell.

“Being down here he’s going able to do the things that make him a great goalie. I’m happy to reunite with him and take this team into the playoffs.”

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