On a busy fall morning, Mitch Love makes his rounds at local TV morning shows before first light.
This isn’t his typical start to the day as he is passed from chair to chair with microphones and bright lights in his face.
Although it isn’t his idea of a good time, the Saskatoon Blades head coach accepts the fact that cameras and microphones are part of his new role.
It’s the eve of the WHL season — Love’s first at the helm of a team — and he’s doing his part to promote the team and ready his roster for another seven-plus months of hockey.
Prior to landing in Saskatoon, Love spent six seasons as an assistant coach with the Everett Silvertips after his playing career unceremoniously fizzled out two years earlier.
He admits there are certain things he misses about his previous posting.
“In Everett, there is one beat writer and that is it,” he said of his whirlwind morning of interviews and scrums. “To go out after today’s meeting and meet with three or four (reporters) is new to me.”
The native of Quesnel, B.C. moved to Saskatoon a little over a month ago and has been tirelessly working on forming his opening night roster, learning about his team and familiarizing himself with hockey operations staff.
“The only thing I’ve really seen away from hockey in Saskatoon is Circle Drive,” Love said when asked about life outside the rink.
Blades fans will be pleased to know Love doesn’t have a busy social life.
The team hasn’t qualified for the playoffs in five years. Even with steady improvement in each of those years and a winning record last season, Love was brought in for one purpose: making the playoffs.
“As a first-time head coach, I wanted to take (making the playoffs) as a challenge,” he said.
“I’ve always been a guy that’s tried to overcome the odds to get to where I need to go.”
Love started his time in the WHL ranks as a 15-year-old with the Moose Jaw Warriors after going undrafted in his bantam year.
Without any expectation to impress, Love managed to play parts of seven seasons in the WHL and continued his playing career in the AHL, the NHL’s main affiliate league.
Turning nothing into something is what the 34-year-old has done for nearly 20 years.
Having a laser-sharp focus and avoiding distractions like playoff pressure are just some of the ingredients in Love’s success.
“I don’t concern my day-to-day happenings based on whether we need to make the playoffs or not,” he said.
“I’m concerned with getting our group to where it needs to get to.”
Love has made the playoffs the last six seasons with Everett, but he is more interested in getting players to buy-in to his lessons and create a winning culture even before his players step on the ice.
“If you’re not good at what you do, you’re never going to be good. Let’s just be really good today at what we do so we can be really good tomorrow at what we do.”
Some old, some new with the yellow and blue
That’s the mantra he is repeating to his players ahead of Friday’s matchup against the defending champion Swift Current Broncos.
After going 6-1 in the preseason, Love has no worries about keeping the momentum going into the season. He just wants his team on the same page before the puck drops Friday evening.
“We lost some guys to NHL camps for a couple weeks, we’ve had some injuries. It’s been really tough to find a flow of some chemistry within our lineup,” he said.
Newly-named captain Chase Wouters, Eric Florchuk, and Kristian Roykas-Marthinsen all returned from NHL camps just in time to start the season.
Roykas-Marthinsen and defenceman Emil Malysjev are the team’s two European imports on the Blades roster.
Fellow rookies Aiden De La Gorgendiere and Tristen Robbins have joined the imports in making impressions on Love.
Loaded with young talent expected to make big improvements and a mix of veterans performing at their best, the timing couldn’t be better for Love’s squad to take advantage of a weakened east division.
With Moose Jaw, Regina and Swift Current all losing top-end talent from last season, the Blades believe a playoff spot is up for grabs.
But Love wouldn’t discount any of his opponents ahead of the season.
“The one thing I’ve come to learn is there is a tonne of parity in this league,” he said.
More than anything, Love is excited to see what his team is made of and how they perform in a real game.
“It’s a dream come true, the more I thought about it,” Love said of his coaching debut. “It will be a surreal moment for me to go through the ranks of almost 20 years of being around this league.”
“I’m just really excited to get it going.”
The two teams return to the Sasktel Centre Saturday for the Blades home opener.