Habs have ‘really good locker room,’ NHL veteran Mitchell says

STU COWAN
MONTREAL GAZETTE

Torrey Mitchell could have tested the National Hockey League’s free-agent market on July 1, but the opportunity to stay home for three more years and play for the Canadiens was too much to resist.

“They said they wanted to re-sign me when I had my year-end meeting,” said Mitchell, 30, who was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres at last season’s NHL trade deadline in exchange for forward Jack Nevins and a seventh-round pick in the 2016 entry draft.

“(GM Marc) Bergevin followed up on it. He called a few weeks later and said he was going to stand by his word. He wasn’t messing around, he told me he wanted me back. I didn’t really feel the need to talk to my agent about other teams.”

On June 15, Mitchell — who grew up in Greenfield Park on the South Shore of Montreal — agreed to a three-year contract with the Canadiens worth US$3.6 million.

Mitchell filled a key role with the Canadiens last season as a defensive fourth-line centre who could take important faceoffs. After picking up only one assist in 14 regular-season games with Montreal, Mitchell shone during the playoffs with one goal and four assists in 12 games to go along with a plus-4 rating, while averaging 12:30 of ice time.

“You need depth and he did a great job as a fourth-line centre,” Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said when asked about Mitchell at his annual golf tournament last week. “You can use him on the wing, he’s good on faceoffs, he kills penalties. He’s a good person, he works extremely hard. You need different types of players to fill up a team and we’re glad that he decided to stay with us, obviously.”

Mitchell was back in Greenfield Park last Friday, visiting his family and friends, and was asked about the pressure of wearing a Canadiens sweater after growing up in Montreal.

“There’s always pressure to win wherever you are, obviously,” he said. “Win, keep your job, perform. So that didn’t feel any different. But being from Montreal and knowing how it is here and how passionate the fans are — how important the team is to the city — you feel that weight a little bit more than San Jose, Minnesota, Buffalo, the teams that I’ve been with, that’s for sure. It feels like there’s a little more weight from the community just being behind the team because of how much passion they have.”

Mitchell said it took a little bit of time to adjust to Therrien’s system after he came to Montreal, but added: “I’m a defensive forward, so I like to think I’m going to thrive under his control.”

And for those who criticize Therrien’s defensive system, Mitchell noted that the Los Angeles Kings won two Stanley Cups, in 2012 and 2014, with defensive-minded teams.

“I think we’re pretty similar style-wise to that team in the makeup of our team,” Mitchell said. “Maybe not as big, but we’ve got the good goalie and we’ve got a good system. I think the guys believe in it, so hopefully we can go a little deeper in the playoffs this year.”

Mitchell has been in a lot of locker rooms since being selected by the Sharks in the fourth round (206th overall) at the 2004 NHL Entry Draft after starring at the University of Vermont, but said there’s something unique about the Canadiens’ room, which he described as “really tight,” with leaders who aren’t too old.

“The core guys are not early 20s, but they’re kind of in their mid-20s, they’re still young, lot of energy,” he said. “It’s a little bit unique in Montreal because the guys are in their prime, they’re 24, 25 years old, so it seems like there’s a lot of good energy, a lot of good banter I guess, if you will. It was a really good locker room.”

When asked what the key to his longevity in the NHL has been, the 5-foot-11, 189-pound Mitchell said: “To be honest, just being a good professional. I’ve tried to be ready every training camp. I’ve sort of found a little niche being a good role player. Those are probably the two things that have helped me have success. I have a defined role and I think I do a good job at it. I come to the rink with the right mentality every day.”

And he’s looking forward to many more days at the rink with the Canadiens.

“It was an unbelievable experience the 31/2 months that I played here (last season) and hopefully I can just keep it going next year,” he said.

scowan@montrealgazette.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

3 Comments

  1. 100HABS says:

    I’d say he’s an upgrade on Manny… so we have a better 4th line centre than we did at the beginning of last year.

  2. Un Canadien errant says:

    All that’s missing is the return of Scott Gomez.

    ———————————————————————–
    Free Antonio Gates!

    http://relentlessineptitude.blogspot.com/


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