MITCHELL ON KNEE SURGERY, RETURN TO LINEUP: At the Los Angeles Kings HockeyFest ’13 event on September 8, 2013, at Staples Center, defenseman Willie Mitchell confirmed that he feels like he is ready to return to action after missing the abbreviated 2013 season due to knee surgery. Also includes audio of the media interview with Mitchell.
LOS ANGELES — Since the news broke last week that he would be back this season after recovering from knee surgery, Los Angeles Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell spoke to the media gathered at HockeyFest ‘13, the team’s annual season-opening celebration for their fans, held at Staples Center on September 8.
“I’m ready to go,” Mitchell declared.
Although nothing is official until Mitchell passes his physical examination on September 11, when the Kings open their 2013-14 training camp with a full day of medical exams and conditioning tests (they hit the ice on September 12), for all intents and purposes, Mitchell is back from knee surgery that sidelined him last season.
“Everyone knows where I’m at now,” said Mitchell. “I’m doing good. I started skating around the middle of June. I was pretty slow, then, just trying to feel the ice. I was skating three or four times a week.”
A loud, collective gasp could be heard among Kings faithful when it was learned that Mitchell would not be available at the start of the abbreviated 2013 regular season.
Mitchell was expected to return during the season, but he suffered a setback that blew those expectations out of the water.
“Everyone got a little excited last year,” he explained. “I had the first procedure on my knee, and everyone, including myself, was rushing to get me back, and it was probably a little too much, too soon. Because of that, I had a setback, and I had to have another procedure on my knee.”
“It wasn’t major pain, when I had my setback,” he elaborated. “It was just a lot of inflammation, and with inflammation, then the pain comes.”
“I had a second surgery. They went back in because I was getting a lot of fluid in my knee. They cleaned that up, and after that, it’s been full steam ahead. I haven’t had any swelling in my knee.”
Mitchell even tried some alternative treatments during his rehabilitation.
“There have been a few different treatments that I’ve tried [including Platelet-Rich Plasma therapy], a lot of rehab, and the proper amount of rest after you [undergo] a procedure on your knee,” Mitchell explained. “That’s allowed me to get to the point where I am now. I’m doing everything fine.”
Rather than return to British Columbia during the summer as usual, Mitchell remained in the Los Angeles area to focus on his rehabilitation.
“I spent the summer in California, getting ready for the season, and trying to make sure to do everything in my power to be here today,” said Mitchell. “I’m really excited to be back.”
“I wanted to make that commitment to myself, first of all,” added Mitchell. “I wanted to play again, I wanted to have a good season, and secondly, to my teammates, and to the team.”
“I just didn’t want to leave anything on the table. I committed myself to staying here all summer and working to give myself the best shot, and it went really, really well.”
Mitchell’s dedication to his rehabilitation work did not come without a bit of sacrifice.
“Everyone knows me,” he noted. “I like my fishing, so it sucked on the fishing front this year. The Pacific Northwest has a lot of good fishing, and it was the best summer ever in Vancouver. But there’s worse places to be, as everyone knows. L.A. was fabulous.”
Mitchell indicated that he needed more than just rehabilitation work to help him return to the lineup.
“We don’t have any kids, me and my wife, so we got to see a lot of California, as well,” said Mitchell. “I put in my time, Monday through Friday. On Friday, early in the afternoon, I’d be done with my stuff, and I said, ‘why not see California?’ So every weekend, I tried to get away, so I wouldn’t feel like, all season long, basically, training, rehabbing, and then, when the season starts, you’re already exhausted.”
“Quite honestly, rehab is much tougher than practicing and playing every day,” added Mitchell. “That’s fun. It’s what you love to do. Rehab is tedious, so I just tried to get away on weekends.”
When asked if he had any thoughts that after suffering the setback, all the grueling rehabilitation work might not be worth it, Mitchell quickly pushed such thoughts aside.
“I had a much harder journey than this one,” he emphasized. “I had eight or nine months with a concussion. You’re worried about life, not just a knee. When you don’t have your brain, you don’t have anything. That’s much more severe, and it gave me perspective.”
“I’m just happy to be back and playing hockey,” he added. “That’s what I love to do. I wasn’t ready to not play again.”
One perspective he did not like was the one he got from his couch while watching his teammates on television.
“I’d watch the game for a little bit, and then turn the TV off and go downstairs, because I knew I wasn’t coming back,” Mitchell noted. “You take the one thing that you’re most passionate about in your life, and you’ve got to sit there and watch everyone do it? It’s torture. Sometimes, you’ve got to get yourself away from it.”
“There’s days the TV was turned off, there’s days I watched,” Mitchell added. “[But now], I’m really excited to get back out, help my teammates, and make other run at [the Stanley Cup].”
Mitchell indicated that he is feeling no ill-effects from the two surgeries.
“I’m not wearing a brace, or anything like that,” he said. “I’m not going to go out and do 100 box jumps, but it’s not that I feel it on the ice. When I started skating, there was still a little bit there. But now, I’m at a point where I don’t feel anything on the ice.”
But back in mid-June, Mitchell may have been feeling more than just some aches and pains in his knee after Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi expressed doubt that Mitchell would return at all.
“It’s possible [that he could play again], but you get into a day—to—day thing, in terms of his progress,” said Lombardi. “I guess it’s safe to say that he’s at least making progress, but the problem is that it’s the same progress he made before. Until we get to those final stages, we’re not going to know, for sure.”
“If you had asked me this six months ago, when we went through the process the first time, I would’ve been encouraged,” added Lombardi. “But given that we had two setbacks, once he got to a certain point, I’m certainly not as optimistic as I would’ve been before. That said, he’s clearly making progress again, but we’ve still got to go to another level, push it, and see if it responds.”
“Your guess is as good as mine, right now.”
Shortly after Lombardi made those comments, Mitchell posted a tweet that featured a video of him skating at the Toyota Sports Center:
Willie Mitchell (@Willie_Mitch33) June 13, 2013
“I just wanted people to know, ‘don’t count me out,’” he stressed. “I’m sure a lot of people doubted that I’d be back. I used that all summer as my motivation to do the tedious work that rehab is, and get to a point where I’m back.”
Given the timing, the video/tweet appears to have been a response to Lombardi’s comments, and when asked about that, Mitchell’s reaction, more in his body language than his words, seems to support that theory.
“I just think he’s no different from me,” said Mitchell. “He’s really happy and excited [that I’m back]. In the past, I was trying to come back, and he thought I was going to be there, but then, my knee blew up.”
Mitchell indicated that perhaps Lombardi did not have a full understanding of his condition.
“Dean wants to win,” Mitchell noted. “I understand that. I want to win. When you’re on the other side of the fence, as a general manager or coach, you want to push your players as much as you can. If someone’s on the line, or something like that, maybe you feel like you need to push a little bit to get them over that line. I think, at that point in time, maybe Dean didn’t understand the significance of what was going on, and even myself, with the inflammation in my knee.”
“After I went to see the doctors, and then having to go back and have another [surgical] procedure, I think that gave him a little more understanding about why I wasn’t able to be there,” Mitchell added. “Early on, in the summer, he was cautiously optimistic. Now, he’s more optimistic, and he’s happy to see me out there, doing the things I normally do.”
But now, that’s all behind Mitchell, and there is no indication that his relationship with Lombardi has hit a rocky road.
“He’s excited that I’m back,” said Mitchell. “I’ve had a lot of conversations with him all summer, and everyone knows Dean. He likes to have conversations, and he’s around the office 24/7.”
“I’m ready to go, full bore. There’s no tip-toeing into this. I’ve been scrimmaging with the guys, practicing, doing everything. Everything’s full steam [ahead]. Business as usual.”
Media Interview With Willie Mitchell – Audio
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
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