SAN FRANCISCO- With the NHL still locked out as of early January, it’s not everyday that NHL players are available to the media. But former San Jose Shark and current Minnesota Wild Forward is back in competitive games. The five-year NHL veteran has joined the ECHL’s San Francisco Bulls, making his minor league hockey debut (Mitchell played college hockey at Vermont and immediately made the Sharks roster out of training camp in 2007) on Wednesday night at the historic Cow Palace.
“The level of play is not that far off [of the NHL],” commented Mitchell on his first minor league action. “There’s little parts of everyone’s game that needs fine tuning to get to the next level, but they’re pretty smart, good players.”
Mitchell admits he is not in the best of hockey shape and is looking for the stint with the Bulls to get his legs back under him as it appears an NHL season should get under way later this month.
“It takes a lot of time, you can practice all year and it’s just not the same as playing a game” confirmed Mitchell. “That’s why I wanted to get in some games here before hopefully this lockout gets taken care of. I just want to get in game shape and the only way you can do that is by playing games.”
Q & A
About how many games do you feel you’ll need to be ready for the possible start of an NHL season?
“Once the season starts, about four or five games and then you start feeling pretty normal again.”
Why did you wait until now to sign with a team and get in some game action?
“Wish I would have done it about a month ago to be honest with you. Being here the last three or four days has been fun. Good group of guys and practices are good and I had fun out there tonight, so I wish I would have done it a little while ago but it’s good to be here right now.”
How did you decide on the Bulls for your temporary team?
“[Clowe] said he was practicing here and having a good time and I keep in touch with him and thought why not?”
What about the possibility of getting hurt in the minors?
“It’s the most important thing, you don’t want to get hurt, especially if this lockout gets settled but you don’t think about that when you’re playing. You’re at risk when you’re out there anyways. It doesn’t matter, it could happen in practice. This is just getting me more ready for training camp and the season.”
Has the lockout given you the opportunity to do anything you normally wouldn’t?
“I had Canadian Thanksgiving which was in October with my family, that was a first in about five or six years. I had American Thanksgiving at my wife’s place, with my in-laws in Montana. That’s a big change. I was practicing with a junior team in Montana for a little bit, I was practicing with a high school team in Vermont. So it was good to connect and show those guys and the younger guys a few little tricks of the trade during the lockout. I obviously wouldn’t have gotten to do that with the season.”
Why did you choose the Minnesota Wild as his your NHL team?
“Free agency I had probably five or six teams that I was kind of choosing from and Minnesota shot up to the top of the list pretty much right away within like an hour of free agency. It was kind of a no brainer. It’s a great hockey town. Too bad to be moving on from San Jose but it was the best decision for me.”