Growing up in Regina, Garrett Mitchell used to dream about the day he’d play in the NHL.
He went through all the proper steps to get there.
The former Pats captain was drafted by the Washington Capitals in the sixth round of the NHL entry draft.
After finishing his WHL career in Regina, Mitchell went to play for the Capitals American Hockey League affiliate, the Hershey Bears.
For six years, Mitchell played in the minors, eventually being named captain. He watched as new draft picks came into the organization. He mentored them, gave them advice and watched them move on to the big club, all while waiting for his own turn.
Finally, on Sunday he got his shot.
While his Bears teammates cheered him on, his coach announced Mitchell would be called up to play with the Capitals for their last game of the regular season.
Mitchell was overwhelmed. He even admitted he cried.
He walked into the Capitals locker room and for the first time in six years, he felt nervous.
“I’m always kind of that guy in Hershey that’s trying to keep guys calm you know (telling them) ‘have fun with it, it’s the same game you’ve been playing your whole life,’” he told the Green Zone’s Jamie Nye.
In a beautiful twist of fate, Mitchell’s parents were already on their way down to visit. Mitchell’s second daughter, Lakelyn, had been born about 10 days before his call up, and the proud grandparents were on a flight through Toronto to Hershey. The flight, however, was delayed and they were able to be rerouted to Washington instead of to Pennsylvania.
“It’s one of those things to have mom and dad there … my two little girls, they were both there, it was such a great experience for myself and my family,” Mitchell said.
But the surprises weren’t done for the 25-year-old.
Capitals coach Barry Trotz went on to tell Mitchell not only will he be playing in Sunday night’s game, he’ll be starting on the same line as Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
The team, recognizing his contributions to their AHL affiliate, gave him a solo skate on the ice during the opener and then Backstrom intentionally got himself kicked out of the opening faceoff to allow Mitchell to take it instead.
“I knew that I was going to start … I knew that much, but as far as the opening draw I had no idea.”
“I kinda looked over … when he threw Nicky out of there and I’m going ‘what the heck’s going on here’ and right away he’s pointing over to me,” Mitchell said of the moment. “I honestly don’t even think I saw the puck drop I was just so in awe and just trying to take it all in.”
He lost the faceoff, he said with a laugh, but said the experience was well worth it.
Six years in the minors might be enough time for some people to call it quits and move on to another dream, but Mitchell hopes it can be a jumping off point.
“It was a great taste last night but at the same time I’m hoping to build on that.”
— With files from the Green Zone