Willie Mitchell said he hadn’t thought much about going back to the West Coast until this past week.
The San Jose Sharks came to Sunrise and seeing some old friends in those familiar teal jerseys definitely brought back some memories for the Panthers’ captain.
“I’ve been so focused with things here,’’ said Mitchell, who will play his first game in California since leaving the Stanley Cup champion Kings as a free agent on Sunday.
“You go through such a wonderful journey with basically the same nucleus of guys. [Winning the Stanley Cup] was the ultimate of ultimates, and we [the Kings] did it twice. You share a special bond with those guys. It doesn’t go away no matter where you play. I’m looking forward to it but am a little bit nervous.’’
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Mitchell is, without a doubt, a West Coast guy.
Born and raised in British Columbia, Mitchell has spent almost the entirety of his career out west.
Save for a brief run with the Devils, Mitchell has spent the past 12 seasons playing in the Western Conference, be it with Minnesota, Dallas, Vancouver and the Kings.
When the season started, Mitchell said he would be fine with the Kings packing up his 2014 championship ring and sending it south.
The Kings didn’t like that idea.
“They are classy about things like this,’’ Mitchell said.
Although the Panthers open this three-game California trip in Anaheim — a place Mitchell isn’t very well-liked thanks to his run with the Kings — Mitchell and the Panthers will make it to Los Angeles soon enough.
The Kings could present Mitchell with his ring on the ice before Tuesday night’s game at Staples Center, although it doesn’t sound like Mitchell wants that.
Team president Dean Lombardi, who signed Mitchell back in 2010 and had to tell him the Kings had no room for him anymore last summer, is expected to do the honors.
“Everyone else has their ring and they could have sent it to me, but Dean wants to give it to me,’’ said Mitchell, who last saw the Ducks in last summer’s West semifinals.
“I thought that was classy. I’m sure we’ll meet up underneath [the arena] behind closed doors. We’ll have a little chit-chat, share some laughs and reminisce a little bit. When you get your ring, it’s time for reflection and closure of a great trip’’
This is a big road trip for the Panthers, a team that has played 14 games — fewest in the league.
Florida’s schedule finally starts to look normal as the days of playing two games in a week are over.
This week, the Panthers will play three games in California from Sunday through Thursday and end the trip Saturday in Nashville.
If the Panthers want to start making their climb up the standings, now would be a good time to begin doing so.
“It’s going to be a tough road trip for our guys,’’ coach Gerard Gallant said. “We have four tough games, and we have to be ready. So far, we’ve been good and have been competing. But we’ll have to be good again.’’
▪ Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo wasn’t happy with his performance in Friday’s shootout loss to the Islanders.
Luongo gave up two goals on three shootout shots. Florida only got one from Jonathan Huberdeau.
“I have to find a way to make some saves in the shootout,’’ Luongo said.
“It’s not acceptable for me to let in two there. The most you want to give up is one. I’ve been working on it a lot and have felt good. I just need to be better.’’
This was only the second shootout of the season for the Panthers. Backup Al Montoya played in the first, giving up goals to all three Washington shooters faced.
In six rounds of shootouts this season, Florida has been outscored 5-1.
“It’s tough, a battle,’’ Gallant said. “The three guys [the Islanders] sent in all have great skill. Unfortunately for us, they got two and we got one.’’
Sunday: Panthers at Ducks
When/where: 8 p.m.; Honda Center, Anaheim.
TV/radio: FSNF; WQAM 560.
The series: Tied 11-11-3.
Of note: The Panthers haven’t won in Anaheim since David Booth recorded a hat trick in 2008. Florida has lost three of the past four meetings between the two.