Sharks rookie Mitchell just sticking to the ‘plan’

By Jeff Dahlia

Like any young kid growing up and playing hockey, there’s always been a plan from the start for the Sharks Torrey Mitchell and it’s always same across the board. Live your dream. Play pro hockey. Be an NHL star.

So far he’s accomplished two of the three mentioned above. However, the one that awaits him at the moment is NHL stardom.

For those who wonder if he can reach such great heights over what should be a fruitful NHL career, all you have to take a look at the past contents of the ‘plan’ he has used to propel himself to this point in his career.

After playing the 2001-02 season with College Charles Lemoyne in the Quebec Midget AAA Hockey League — where he was an all-star and won the league championship — he looked to improve his game south of the border in the U.S.

“I always wanted to play college hockey,” he said. “I figured one of the ways to get there would be to go to prep school.”

What about the QMJHL?

Mitchell gave the junior league consideration, but he started to look in the New England region for a prep school to help increase his chances of eventually landing with an elite college hockey program.

“I figured I’d need a little more time to fill into my body,” said the self-proclaimed late bloomer. “It was a hard a decision for me not to go to junior because there was a lot of pressure on me to go that route.”

With the help of his dad – who’s an AD at a private school back in Montreal – and a lot of interest coming from The Hotchkiss School, Mitchell committed to the prep institution in Lakeville, Connecticut.

“They showed a lot of interest,” he said. “It was a great school with a great hockey program, so it was a perfect fit for me.”

After two more seasons, where he was yet again an all-star and the team’s leading scorer in consecutive seasons, the Greenfield native generated the buzz he hoped would propel his career into the collegiate ranks.

Bring on Burlington

Mitchell was elated to know that his hard work was paying off. The plan he resurrected some years ago led him to this point. Now all he had to do was make a decision where to go next.

“It came down to Vermont, Clarkson, and Boston University, “ he explained. “I choose the University of Vermont because I just loved everything about it. It was close to home, Burlington is a great town, and it was perfect fit. I knew from the second I had visited the campus that this was the place.”

Although, before he could officially get to campus, there one little blip during that off-season. After being skipped over in the 2003 NHL Draft, the summer of 2004 was much kinder. With the 126th overall pick, the Sharks selected Mitchell in the fourth round.

He just put his head down and went right back to work. He worked too hard to get caught up in the “what if’” at this point. He had to stick to the plan.

As a freshman with the Catamounts during the 2004-05 season, Mitchell continued moving forward. He didn’t waste any time his first year in Burlington, finishing third on the team in scoring with 30 points (11 goals, 19 assists) in 38 games en route to earning ECAC rookie of the year honors.

Asked whether he expected to have that much of an impact with Vermont right off the bat, Mitchell said, “I knew that when I stepped in, I was going to get a chance at playing on the top two lines. It was nice to know that that opportunity was there because for a lot of kids heading a new program, you have to pay your dues. Fortunately for me, I was able to play on the first line right away, produce, and potentially be an impact player.”

In his sophomore and junior years, he would continue to be that impact player he dreamed he would be. He went on to lead the team in scoring and earned Honorable Mention Hockey East All-Star two consecutive years

Sharks start to swarm

Having breathed life back into the Vermont program with three years of hard work and dedication, the San Jose staff was very interested in the shifty, point producing two-way forward. After the completion of his junior season, the Catamounts co-captain decided to forgo his senior season and sign an entry-level contract with San Jose.

“There were a lot of decisions to make when it came to leaving,” he said. “You always want to graduate when it comes to college once you get there and I came pretty close. It was a hard decision but I believe it was the best at the time. It’s turned out okay so far.”

The opportunity to play at the next level was just too intoxicating and Mitchell knew he had to make the most of such a rewarding opportunity.

He didn’t waste anytime either. He joined the Worcester Sharks in the AHL for the rest of the 2006-07 season. And in classic Torrey Mitchell fashion, he picked up where he left off at in college. In the last 11 regular season games, he scored 7 points (2 goals, 5 assists), picked up 27 penalty minutes and was a plus-7. Though the ‘A’ Sharks made a quick exit in the post-season, the pivot picked up a goal and an assist in six games.

It was a brief experience, but he felt very confident with his play at the pro level.

“Looking back, it was a good overall experience before I headed into my first training camp,” he said.

 With last year’s momentum, Mitchell arrived at this year’s training camp with the mindset that he wanted to be the best player out there for San Jose, no matter what situation he was in or regardless of who he lined up with.

“That is the mentality I had headed in,” he said. “It kind of just took off from there. I used every day as a springboard. I wanted to get as much as experience as possible playing with the big guys and all-stars we have on the team.”

Mitchell held up to his end of the bargain. He didn’t look into all the moves and the line juggling. He came out and focused on all those little details on the ice to improve his chances.

“It just happened and everything sort of fell into place really,” he said. “I was just trying to learn and make it. I’m still learning, listening, trying new things and trying to get better. You can’t look into stuff like that and you have to do your part. That part is playing hockey and doing things right.”

Extension plan

The plan has always been steady for Mitchell. Work hard, commit yourself, and be the best. The same attitude and approach that opened doors for him up until now has truly been spot on. He worked hard everywhere he went, he committed himself to each step of the plan and in the end, he simply has been the best in all of his previous programs.

That was also the same consistency that made it hard for head coach Ron Wilson and the rest of the Sharks staff to send Mitchell back to Worcester to start the 2007-08 season off in the minors.

“It’s always a standard that everyone has to play well and work to earn spot,” said Wilson. “We were happy with Torrey’s speed and skill. He has played with a lot of confidence.”

From day one this year, Mitchell has been a step ahead of the rest of the hopefuls who were looking for a spot of the Sharks roster. His hard work has been noticed and it was no was really no surprise he is where he is today with San Jose.

“He’s just going to have to find a way to fit in,” Wilson added. “We think he’ll be a second or third line centerman eventually. Right now, we like his hands, so we’re using him all over, including the power play and the penalty-kill.”

And like the seasons of old, Mitchell was right back at it when the Sharks opened their NHL season against the Vancouver Canucks back in his native Canada.

“It was a dream come true and it was exciting,” said Mitchell, who also earned his first assist setting up Jeremy Roenick on a goal. “It was pretty cool to get out there and be a part of it.”

Now, living the dream and being the best he can be is Mitchell’s focus. The rest will come along. The proof is in his history.

“I’ve always tried to be the hardest worker wherever I have been,” he finally added. “ Whether it was midget, prep, college or here with the Sharks. I feel that my hard work has gotten me where I am today. I’m not going to let up by any means.”

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.