Like many around the country, Willie Mitchell watched the Los Angeles Kings banner-raising ceremony on television.
Mitchell, however, had a little something to do with the Kings winning the Stanley Cup last season.
Now with the Panthers, Mitchell said he enjoyed watching his former teammates on the ice at Staples Center and has fond memories of the Kings’ incredible run — Los Angeles won three Game 7s in the Western Conference playoffs — to the title.
“You kind of wish you were there because it was so cool to see,’’ Mitchell said.
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“It was the culmination of all of the events; the journey, winning, the parties afterward. The banner is the last thing left, the nail in the coffin.’’
But was watching the ceremony from a hotel in downtown Tampa a little bittersweet? Mitchell said it wasn’t as he’s already moved on and that he’s ready for the challenges of helping his new team into the postseason — and beyond.
“It’s motivation. Winning the Cup is the best feeling in the world, and we want to win it here,’’ said Mitchell, who was named the eighth captain in Panthers history on Monday.
“Obviously we have to climb some hills before we climb that mountain. Everyone has a clean slate, no one has the Stanley Cup right now. It’s up for grabs and everyone wants to take it away from them.’’
It’s that sort of attitude, coach Gerard Gallant said, that makes Mitchell such a leader within the Panthers locker room and why he was a natural choice as the new team captain.
“He was happy to sign here and was excited to come here,’’ Gallant said. “Willie has been excited to be a Florida Panther since Day 1. He didn’t come here to retire. He signed a two-year deal and wants to be a good player and a good leader.’’
In three years with the Kings, Mitchell won the Cup twice.
This summer, he had a few days with the Cup and took it back home to British Columbia where he surprised his grandfather, 88-year-old Les Mitchell, with it.
“He had a tryout with the Rangers in the Original Six days so it was only fitting that I took it over to him and chucked it onto his lap,’’ Willie Mitchell said. “That was pretty special.’’
Mitchell said he texted a few of his old teammates in Los Angeles as well as members of the Kings’ front office on Wednesday before turning in for the night.
The Kings haven’t given Mitchell his 2014 Stanley Cup ring yet, but he’s expecting it to arrive in South Florida sometime soon.
When asked if he would rather wait until the Panthers visit Los Angeles next month, Mitchell said he preferred to just get the ring in the mail instead.
“I’m sure they’ll send it before then,’’ Mitchell said. “I don’t need anything special. It’s great, it’s a life-long memory, but it’s over now. On to the next journey, the next chapter.’’
▪ Although the Lightning is considered one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference this year, that sure wasn’t the case when Gallant played here.
Gallant joined the Lightning in its second season — which was Florida’s first in the league — and played 51 games in 1993-94.
The Lightning finished 12 points behind the expansion Panthers that season.
“We played a lot of golf, I remember that,’’ Gallant said.