Habs' Torrey Mitchell living the dream playing for his hometown team
The Greenfield Park native talks about his journey from playing on a backyard rink to the Bell Centre
Torrey Mitchell is on the eve of his 11th season in the NHL, but the Greenfield Park, Que., native isn't taking his spot on the Montreal Canadiens roster for granted.
He never has.
"I always sort of have the mentality to come in and remake the team," Mitchell says. "I seem to embrace that competition and it brings out the best in me."
The fact is, Mitchell has been fighting for his space on the ice for a long time.
I find myself pinching myself once a week just realizing that I'm actually living my childhood dream.- Torrey Mitchell
It started when he was just a toddler growing up in the Montreal South Shore suburb and continues today as he aims to once again crack the opening night lineup for the Habs.
From the time he was two until he was 17, Mitchell's father Steve built a backyard rink for him and his older brother Josh to play hockey on every winter.
Mitchell says it was there where he first started to develop the on-ice work ethic which would eventually serve him as a pro.
"My brother was a really good athlete, and I was always chasing him around.... I was getting beat up pretty much every step of the way but that made me stronger, for sure."
Playing on one leg
That strength of character Mitchell learned on the backyard rink blossomed when he was playing midget hockey as a 16-year-old.
He says that was the year he started to separate himself from other players his age.
One game in particular, the bronze medal game at the 2002 Air Canada Cup — the national midget AAA championship at the time — highlighted his ability to go the extra mile.
He suited up and despite essentially playing on only one leg, he scored two goals and added an assist, leading what was left of his team to a 6-4 victory.
"I was always just passionate about helping my teammates and playing as hard as I could play," Mitchell says.
"I think I still have that competitive edge in my game."
College hockey over junior hockey
Mitchell wouldn't win all his battles, however.
Despite his desire to play junior hockey, when it came time to take the next step in his sport, his parents insisted that he go to college instead.
"Both my parents were teachers.... so it really wasn't much of a debate. It was, 'You're going to play college hockey if you want to continue playing hockey,'" Mitchell said.
He was initially unhappy with the path his parents set out for him but now admits they knew best.
"I enjoyed every second of [the college experience] and would recommend it to everyone," he said.
For three years, Mitchell suited up for the Catamounts at the University of Vermont while he was studying community development and applied economics.
He says he made lifelong friends while at school. It's also where met his wife.
But despite not graduating, to this day Mitchell says he still has strong ties to the university.
He owns a home in South Burlington, was recently inducted into the school's hall of fame and hasn't ruled out going back some day to finish his degree.
Traded to the Montreal Canadiens
Greenfield Park as a community has been bursting with pride for its native son ever since he first broke into the NHL.
Mitchell was inducted into the town's hall of fame when he was only 23, at an event hosted by his boyhood idol, retired NHLer and fellow Greenfield Park native Garry Galley. But things were taken to another level when he was traded to the Montreal Canadiens in 2015.
Naturally, the number of Mitchell jersey sightings in Greenfield Park spiked.
What's more, Mitchell had become a father right before the trade. For him to be able to play professional hockey while also being close to his parents is a luxury most NHLers don't have.
He has two daughters now, and he says they've made the experience of playing for the Habs even richer.
"It's been unbelievable. They're so much fun to be around.... My wife brings the girls down to the glass in warm-ups sometimes. I wave at them, and they go crazy."
Beyond his own internal motivation that has always driven him as an athlete, Mitchell, who is now 32, says he wants to play as long as possible so his daughters have memories of him on the ice.
Fighting to keep his job
Mitchell is in the last year of his contract with the Montreal Canadiens but knows that even with time left on his deal, nothing is for sure.
Last year in the playoffs Mitchell sat in the press box as a healthy scratch while his team was eliminated in game six of the first round against the New York Rangers.
Additionally, the NHL's crackdown on faceoff violations this pre-season could have major implications for Mitchell, who has been known to be an elite faceoff taker.
"The best faceoff guys are said to be the best cheaters, so I'll have to readjust some of my cheating I guess," Mitchell said, smiling.
If there is one thing that could keep Mitchell in the league for a long time, it's his speed. It's always been one of his advantages over the competition.
That, and the fight he first discovered on his backyard rink in Greenfield Park.