By Don Scott
Garrett Mitchell, a Hershey Bears fan favorite during his seven seasons in Chocolate Town (2011-18), is back in the area playing for the Reading Royals in the ECHL after spending the 2018-19 campaign in Slovakia.
Playing for an AHL team for that many consecutive years is quite rare these days, but it meant he has some interesting stats in Hershey’s 81 campaigns. His 400 games played are 26th and his 630 penalty minutes are 13th in franchise history, and both would have increased if it had not been for lengthy injuries that kept him sidelined.
“My time overseas was interesting because a lot of things are done differently than here with the language obviously being a biggie,” Mitchell said. “The other noticeable differences are the physicality, and there is a lot more open ice to make plays, so that makes the hockey part different too. A plus is you get to travel to five or six countries.
“It gave me a whole new perspective as to what the Russians and other kids have to go through when they come to North America,” continued Mitchell. “What happened for me was I was lucky my coach had played in the NHL, so his English was really good. He would address the team in Slovak then he would talk to those of us – and we had several Canadians on the team – in English so we would know what is going on. That was also what I had to do to order my skates, sticks and other equipment.”
Mitchell still lives in the Hershey area and plans to remain there which he said brings a question from fans about that decision.
“For me, the truth is because it’s where I really grew up,” said Mitchell. “When I played junior hockey I stayed at home in Regina and most players don’t get to do that. Coming here as a 20-year old it was the first time I had to make my own decisions. I haven’t been back to Regina for many years so if I did I don’t think, well I know, I wouldn’t be happy.
“When hockey is done, I know there are a lot of guys who have stayed here and we want to do the same thing,” added Mitchell. “That’s also because of the way I was treated by the organization the whole time I was here.”
While with Hershey, Mitchell was a three-time captain (2015-18), guided the Bears to Calder Cup Playoffs five times, led the team to the 2016 Calder Cup Finals, played in 52 postseason games and played in two AHL Outdoor Classics.
The highlight of his career to date, and this more than likely will never change, is the one NHL game he played for the Washington Capitals on April 9, 2017.
“I didn’t know I was going to be called up until coach Troy Mann announced it in front of the whole team so it was a complete surprise to me,” said Mitchell. “I had a great second season here, then was hurt in a fight in the pre-season of my third year and was sent down to the Bears. I tried to play through that injury and only played maybe 16-17 games. I knew there was something wrong and was hoping it would fix itself and allow me to get back up, but that didn’t happen.
“These days you get maybe two-plus seasons to get to the NHL and if you don’t make it in that time you kind of fall by the wayside,” Mitchell continued. “Every year there is more new draft picks coming along, that just makes it harder.”
Pausing for a moment, Mitch recalled his feelings when other guys got a call up, and admits he was happy for them, but still disappointed that he never got another opportunity until that locker room announcement.
“When I got that call six years into my career it just fulfilled all the dreams of mine, just like all the other Canadian born kids, to finally get there,” said Mitchell. “Not only did I start the game at center, but my wingers were Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. I don’t think I had my stick on the ice or know what building I was in. I was that six-year old kid in the driveway playing in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. I have that one game and no one can ever take that away from me.
“My parents, my wife and her parents along with both my daughters were there so it was just a great day for everyone,” Mitchell added. “At the end of the game it was jersey off your back to give to my parents and I was named a third star. What the Capitals did was above and beyond any expectations I could imagine. A lot of guys play one game and you never hear anything about them again, but the Caps made sure it was going to be special for me, and it was!”
As to his future when the playing days end, Mitchell said, “I’m not sure at this time, but hockey has given me and my family a nice living. I respect the game and the people in it so if I could be involved in some sort of way I think it would be hard for me to say no to it. Right now I’m with Reading and just want to do everything I can for them.”
For the record, Mitchell still wears #36 for the Royals.