May 082009

After seeing the sheer venom coming from the mouths of people that call themselves “fans” on the CDC boards, I had to dig up an old post I wrote before I joined CHB. A lot of people have sounded off on Willie Mitchell for costing us game 4 and a stranglehold lead in the series, but he’s human too.

Mitchell had a horrible game. He knows it more than anyone else. You can be sure he’s going to come back and do everything he can to make up for it in game 5 on home ice. I wanted to remind people of certain things – Keep in mind this was written with a month ago.

Steamboat Willie

Of all the Canucks to be having career season this year, Henrik having just hit a career high for goals in a season, Burrows hitting new career highs in goals, assists and points, and Kesler having a breakout season on top of last year’s break out season, everyone seems to have forgotten about Willie Mitchell. The 32 year old is having a breakout season of his own and he’s “shattered” his previous career high for points which used to be 14. Granted that as of late Mitchell has been in the spotlight for his attempted assault on the Canucks club plus/minus record, (currently shared by Marek Malik and Pavel Bure at +35) everyone seems to be missing the real effect he’s been having on this team.

When Dave Nonis signed Mitchell, one of the first questions the media asked him was “What can you bring to this team?” or words to that effect. His response was puzzling, and even after justifying it I thought he was just another cocky player. He said, “I’m like a 30 goal scorer”. I was left scratching my head until he attempted to justify himself, but it’s not until this season that I’ve really seen the effects of what he meant. Growing up in a Jacques Lemaire system he said “I consider myself a 30 goal scorer not because I can score 30 goals, but because I can prevent the other team from scoring at least 30 goals a season”. Makes sense right? Having been bred into the defensive trap system that Lemaire preaches Mitchell was a very conservative D man when he first joined Vancouver, but now it seems that all the work Lemaire put into him has really paid off because he’s been able to amalgamate his stay at home defenseman abilities, with his part time offensive defenseman capabilities and established himself as one of the best defenseman we have. This is in a lineup that boasts the likes of Mattias Ohlund and Sami Salo.

I think it’s fairly safe to say that amidst all the hype surrounding everyone else that Willie’s play has gone unnoticed. Burrows’ stats get preached every night, he was the center of the deadline rumours. The twins almost always are the center of news, be it contract negotiations, spinorama goals, or lackluster play, and Kesler is either in the hot seat, or the hero. Mitchell however in his time in Vancouver has flown under the radar. He’s not a big fighter, he’s not the big show stopper, and he’s never up to any antics, just a Port McNeil boy in the big leagues helping his team out night after night. His constantly increasing plus/minus is a testament to that too. In a time when Mike Green is stealing headlines with his 30 goal season as a defenceman on a team that boasts Semin, Ovechkin and more, and when Phaneuf and Weber are considered the leaders of the defense of tomorrow, even on a team where the focus is on Boom Boom Kevin “Juice” Bieksa, “Ohlund Junior” Edler, and long time Canuck veteran Mattias Ohlund, Mitchell sometimes doesn’t get a second look. Here’s a guy that has slowly been helping this team out and apart from his toothy grin or blade-tape, goal line, puck saving antics hasn’t been the center of media.

He’s arguably this year’s unsung hero. The fan favourites continue to please and as a result their names are in spotlight all the time. A true testament to his character is that he doesn’t care. He’s not a spotlight hog; he doesn’t even care about the spotlight. He’s just a guy that comes to play every night. He’s passionate, but smart in choosing his battles. He’s playoff tested and you know that in the off season he’s going to bring his best. He’s a workhorse in a game that is shifting towards a defensive orientation, and he’s smart with his plays. Were it not for the Mitchell saves and smart plays be they on the back check or handling a tricky 2 on 1, or 3 on 1, the errors of Bieksa, Edler and the rest of the team could look that much worse. Giving him one of the as this season was an excellent decision simply because of the way he leads through example. He silently shows the rest of the team that he’s doing his job and the rest of them follow. He’s not flashy, he’s not in it to be a big shot, he plays the game how it’s meant to be played and with him nearing the Canucks plus minus record, he’s still modest about his main concern being winning, and moving forward towards a cup.

So when he says “I’m a 30 goal scorer” I think I know what he means now. The fact that he’s gotten new career highs just illustrates how he’s adapted his style of play to fit in with a fast Canucks team that has finally moved on from a defensive mindset. He’s taken a few years to find his groove on the Canucks blue line, (I can only imagine what it’s like to go from Minnesota’s trap, to our system. It must feel like the Mighty Ducks and the flying V) but is certainly amongst this team’s leaders and deserves much more credit than he really gets.

Apr 082009
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