Long wait ends for Mitchell
After 710 regular-season games, Kings defenseman reaches the Stanley Cup Finals
Asked about the Kings’ seven-day break before the start of the Stanley Cup Finals, Willie Mitchell grinned and said that the lengthy rest period would be welcomed by the team’s ``over-35 crowd.’’
``Is there anyone else there? I put my foot in my mouth,’’ Mitchell said with a laugh.
Mitchell is the crowd. He turned 35 last month. He is the Kings' oldest player, and nobody has waited longer to reach this point. No current King had totaled more regular-season games without reaching the Finals than Mitchell, who ran his total to 719 games as part of a 12-year NHL career with New Jersey, Dallas, Minnesota, Vancouver and the Kings.
Mitchell had reached the Western Conference Finals with Minnesota in 2003 but lost. On Tuesday in Glendale, Ariz., he was on the ice when Dustin Penner’s overtime goal sent the Kings to the Finals.
``It’s still personally -- I can’t speak for everyone -- still a pretty surreal feeling,’’ Mitchell said Thursday. ``I’s been a long time coming. It’s what you work for, as a player and teammates. I was fortunate enough to be out on the ice when Big Pens scored. Some guys were jumping. I was just sitting there like, `Is this happening?’ I feel fortunate to get this chance and get the opportunity to play for the Stanley Cup for real.
``As a kid, you play, how many, road-hockey games playing for it. Now I’m going to be on one of two teams to do it for the real deal. So I’m really looking forward to it and I’m just going to enjoy it. I had a little time there where I didn’t know if hockey was going to even continue, for that matter, so I think at this time of year -- after going through that, too -- it just kind of allows me to enjoy it that much more.’’
Two years ago, at this moment, Mitchell was sitting home, attempting to recover from a severe concussion that cost him half of the 2009-10 season. The following offseason, Mitchell signed a two-year contract with the Kings, and this season he re-upped with a two-year extension.
Mitchell has been an under-the-radar force for the Kings. In the series-clinching Game 5, he played a game-high 34 minutes, 56 seconds, and those are the hardest of minutes. Mitchell is the Kings’ top penalty-killer, a power-play contributor and is the safety mechanism for his, rookie partner Slava Voynov.
A stay-at-home stalwart, Mitchell will now get a chance to play on hockey’s biggest stage.
``It’s been a long time waiting for it,’’ coach Darryl Sutter said of Mitchell. ``It’s good to see those guys that don’t get that recognition, that’s their reward, always.’’
GEARING UP AGAIN
After a full day off Wednesday, only a handful of Kings went on the ice Thursday morning -- Jordan Nolan was the only lineup regular -- as the Kings rest up and then start to build toward playing games again.
The full team is likely to practice for the next three days in El Segundo. The Kings will fly East on Monday and participate in ``media day’’ on Tuesday in advance of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals on Wednesday.
``We’re starting to slowing get the engines revving for Game 1,’’ Dustin Penner said. ``We had another day where it was more of a relaxed day, and then tomorrow it’s really back to work, where we start getting that focus and drive and concentration towards the first game, first shift, first period. We’re going to be doing our extra homework, watching the (Eastern Conference) series when we get home, and things like that, because every little detail makes a difference now.’’